Coca-Cola sign

Flat Wire Brings in the New Year without a Bang

Jan. 18, 2018
Despite frigid temperatures, the 2018 Times Square ball drop operated smoothly thanks to material science and wire technology.

When you have more than two million people observing an event that relies on your product to work, it might be worrying. Watching the new year’s ball drop in New York City’s Times Square is a longstanding American tradition. And this year, the power needed to make it happen was carried on Cicoil cables. To ramp up pressure on the company even more, this was the coldest New Year’s Eve we’ve seen since 1917.

Safely carrying cables in applications that need them to move and flex can be a challenge. Some companies, like igus, have large departments that do nothing but find solutions to get cables to move with machinery without breaking, without disconnecting, or being damaged. This year, the ball drop and a new 3D robotic billboard from Coca-Cola were both moving and flexing cables in an outdoor environment, in conditions that might cause other cables to become brittle.

Rated for temperatures as low as −65°C, Cicoil’s flat cables continuously flexed over and over, without any difficulties. Though it’s the signature event, one could argue that the ball drop itself isn’t overly impressive from an engineering perspective. However, the sophisticated 68-ft.-high, 42-ft.-wide robotic billboard is in continuous motion, is exposed to all kinds of weather, and operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week—now, that’s impressive. The billboard’s new, so we’ll have to see how well it holds up over time, but so far it’s still working.

For almost four years, extensive durability, flex, and harsh weather exposure testing were performed on various cables to see which one could consistently survive in these conditions. In addition to the physical requirements, the cables would also have to successfully provide power and signal transmission to each of the large sign’s actuators and display panels, as well. 

I was surprised to read that if any one of the 1,760 high-resolution LED cubes doesn’t function, neither will the entire sign. Perhaps it would have been too difficult to wire the cubes in parallel. Either way, Cicoil flat flexible cables have changed the way we see Times Square.

About the Author

Jeff Kerns | Technology Editor

Studying mechanical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), he worked in the Polymer Research Lab. Utilizing RIT’s co-op program Jeff worked for two aerospace companies focusing on drafting, quality, and manufacturing for aerospace fasteners and metallurgy. He also studied abroad living in Dubrovnik, Croatia. After college, he became a commissioning engineer, traveling the world working on precision rotary equipment. Then he attended a few masters courses at the local college, and helped an automation company build equipment.

Growing up in Lancaster County, PA he always liked to tinker, build, and invent. He is ecstatic to be at Machine Design Magazine in New York City and looks forward to producing valuable information in the mechanical industry. 

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