Custom Cable Assemblies vs Off-The-Shelf Assemblies

Custom Cable Assemblies vs Off-The-Shelf Assemblies

1 Oct 20195 min readMike Anderson
Example of a custom cable assembly manufactured by ATL Technology Example of a custom cable assembly manufactured by ATL Technology

Selecting the correct electrical cable assemblies for your minimally invasive device is critical.

Similar to selecting the right connector, you typically have two options when it comes to cable assemblies: custom cable assemblies or off-the-shelf assemblies.

Deciding which type to use requires careful consideration and a thorough understanding of the device application as the wrong choice can negatively impact cost, performance, quality, and a variety of other factors.

In this blog post..

We’ll highlight the differences between custom cable assemblies and off-the-shelf assemblies, provide insight into when you should use custom cable assemblies, and discuss the factors you should consider when selecting an assembly for your minimally invasive device.

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What are the differences between custom cable assemblies and off-the-shelf assemblies?

As the name suggests, off-the-shelf assemblies include “standard” products that can be purchased from a supplier’s inventory and are typically featured in catalogs with standard part numbers and little-to-no customization options.

In other words:

When it comes to off-the-shelf assemblies you get what you see.

Custom cable assemblies, on the other hand, include any assembly designed according to your specifications.

With custom cable assemblies, you typically present your design, device, or idea to an interconnect expert and they help you develop a cable assembly that meets your specific needs.

Custom cable assemblies provide two unique benefits that off-the-shelf assemblies do not:

  1. Customization
  2. Improved Performance.


As custom electrical cable assemblies are designed to your specifications, they are tailor made for your minimally invasive device, which means you can decide which features, functionality, and output you’d like the assembly to have—it is not dictated by a third party who is selling it to you as commoditized component.

Customization also means you can design the cable assembly as part of the device rather than having to design around an off-the-shelf assembly, giving you more flexibility during the development process.

This makes customization especially favorable in situations where your cable assembly requires specific bio-compatible material, color scheme (or style), or IEC60601 compliance to meet medical industry safety standards.

There are also situations in which customization is necessary—where off-the-shelf assemblies cannot be used.

For example…

If your minimally invasive device requires tight change control, you must use a custom cable assembly as an off-the-shelf assembly can be changed at any time, without notice by the supplier.

Improved Performance

Because custom cable assemblies are designed specifically for your device, they are an exact fit for your application.

How does this help improve performance?

It guarantees that your cable assembly wasn’t designed for another market (e.g., fork trucks) and then re-purposed for the medical device field.

When cable assemblies are not designed with your specific device in mind, they can lead to performance issues as you’re trying to force a cable designed for one application to work with your application.

For example…

If you take a cable assembly designed for an imaging application and try to use it in your minimally invasive electrosurgical device, you could end up with performance issues like overheating and contact spacing violations.

When should you use custom cable assemblies vs off-the-shelf assemblies?

As is the case with overmolded cable connectors and off-the-shelf connectors, off-the-shelf cable assemblies are a viable option for development builds where you are trying to prove the validity of a design, because they can be easily purchased from a supplier’s stock.

Off-the-shelf assemblies can also be used in commoditized applications where “standard” assemblies have been created to sufficiently meet requirements.

Custom cable assemblies are preferable in any situation where cable performance is a critical aspect of device functionality, the device is new, or the device requirements are unique and unobtainable with an off-the-shelf option.

Are custom electrical cable assemblies right for your minimally invasive device?

The answer to this question depends on your device application and requirements.

Generally speaking, if your minimally invasive device is intended for a critical application where it is in your best interest to have complete control over every aspect of your device, a custom cable assembly is most likely going to be your best option.

Alternatively, if your minimally invasive device is innovative or if it is entering a new market where off-the-shelf options are not feasible or available, custom cable assemblies may be your only option.

Though these are the two most popular situations in which a custom cable assembly might be right for you, we recommend speaking to a cable assembly expert before making a decision.

Additional resources

Both custom cable assemblies and off-the-shelf assemblies have positive factors that can benefit your device.

Understanding the difference between the two, your market application, and your specific requirements can help you make the right choice for your device needs.

To learn more, download our free e-book about cable design.