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Wiring Harness Inspection

Wiring harnesses are similar to the human circulatory and nervous system. They deliver energy, transfer messages, collect and distribute data. This data describes the environment external to the system, and the health of the system itself. Cables and wiring harnesses are often the most overlooked component in a design despite being essential to the performance and reliability of any electrical hardware.

A wire harness is an assembly of electrical cables or wires that transmit signals and power throughout an aircraft. In the late 1980s, wiring safety concerns became an issue due to accidents and incidents related to aircraft. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, investigations found common degrading factors in airplane electrical wiring systems to be the cause of some accidents. These findings lead to extensive investigations into wiring, done by different industries and agencies. Damaged wiring or equipment in an aircraft, regardless of how minor it may appear to be, cannot be tolerated therefore you want to ensure you are conducting a full wiring harness inspection.

A harness shouldn't be removed before it is inspected. If there are defects on the harness, removing it prematurely will make matters worse. Finding and analyzing the contact points of the harness is a necessary step during the visual inspection process. The points of contact include all wire connections, termination points, wire insulation, and equipment supporting/securing the wire. Conducting a wiring harness inspection can be difficult to do visually. However, using a borescope will allow you easier access to hard to see areas, damage, and defects.

What Causes Wiring Harnesses to Fail?

Failure of the wire harness can put an aircraft out of commission. There are many different factors that play a role in wiring degradation. More than one thing can affect wiring which, in turn, affects the overall performance of the equipment. Some factors that affect wiring are:

  • Maintenance Improper maintenance, or the lack thereof, can cause serious problems for aviation equipment. Aircraft are to undergo a series of inspections from the gate to the tarmac. If at any point aircraft need to be maintenance, it is important to ensure maintenance is handled by a certified professional.
  • Operation In some cases, the equipment operator fails to adhere to certain processes and causes equipment to malfunction, fail or weaken in performance. Because of this, it is important to familiarize yourself with the individualized processes and operation of aircraft. Like maintenance, only experienced professionals should operate, inspect and repair aircraft. Working with a wire harness manufacturer that has experience can help eliminate many of these problems.
  • Environment The environment of equipment can affect its performance. Different areas of the aircraft will have various exposures. If the environment is too hot, it can cause melting and burning of wires; too cold and wires can become brittle and break; too wet and wire corrode or lose conductivity.
  • Time There is no denying that time is a factor in aircraft. The more aircraft fly, the more susceptible they become to malfunction or defect. An aircraft, on average, is operable for about 30 years before it has to be retired. Even if the equipment is properly inspected and maintained, chances are it will be recycled at some point for being old.

What to Inspect a Wiring Harness For

A wiring harness consists of conductor wires that are contained in insulated coverings manufactured by hand, by skilled technicians. Routine inspections are required for aircraft which include internal and external components. When conducting a wiring harness inspection, here is what to look for:

  • Debris on power wires
  • Discoloration of connections
  • Misalignment of equipment
  • Poor electrical bonding
  • Corrosion
  • Dirty connections
  • Broken wiring and conduit
  • Loose connections of terminals
  • Loose ferrules

It is important to remember that a visual inspection alone is not enough to determine if the equipment is safe. In some cases, you must remove or deconstruct components to fully inspect them. For example, large bundles of wire can conceal other issues that are not easy to see without having to remove it. Since wire degradation is not easily spotted, using a borescope for additional observation can help view the tight, packed region of the wiring harness.

A borescope can be used on almost any piece of aviation equipment with a small access hole. With the use of borescopes, different lengths, components, and structures can be quickly viewed. There are locations on an aircraft that can more easily be inspected with other visual methods, but for wiring harnesses, borescopes are the way to go. They allow you access to unreachable areas and give you the ability to capture photo or video for future reference, documentation or training.

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