A wire is a single, usually cylindrical, elongated string of drawn metal. Wires are used to bear mechanical loads and to carry electricity and telecommunications signal. Standard sizes are determined by various wire gauges. The term wire is also used more loosely to refer to a bundle of such strands, as in 'multistranded wire', which is more correctly termed a wire rope in mechanics, or a cable in electricity.
Square and hexagonal wires were possibly made using a swaging technique. In this method a metal rod was struck between grooved metal blocks, or between a grooved punch and a grooved metal anvil. Swaging is of great antiquity, possibly dating to the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC in Egypt and in the Bronze and Iron Ages in Europe for torches and fibulae.
In about the middle of the 2nd millennium BC a new category of decorative wires was introduced which imitated a line of granules. Perhaps the earliest such wire is the notched wire which first occurs from the late 3rd, early 2nd millennium BC in Anatolia and occasionally later.
Wire was drawn in England from the medieval period. The wire was used to make wool cards and pins, manufactured goods whose import was prohibited by Edward IV in 1463. The first wire mill in Great Britain was established at Tintern in about 1568 by the founders of the Company of Mineral and Battery Works, who had a monopoly on this. Apart from their second wire mill at nearby Whitebrook, there were no other wire mills before the second half of the 17th century. Despite the existence of mills, the drawing of wire down to fine sizes continued to be done manually.
Wire is usually drawn of cylindrical form; but it may be made of any desired section by varying the outline of the holes in the draw-plate through which it is passed in the process of manufacture. The draw-plate or die is a piece of hard cast-iron or hard steel, or for fine work it may be a diamond or a ruby. The object of utilizing precious stones is to enable the dies to be used for a considerable period without losing their size, and so producing wire of incorrect diameter. Diamond dies must be rebored when they have lost their original diameter of hole, but the metal dies are brought down to size again by hammering up the hole and then drifting it out to correct diameter with a punch.
Not all metals and metallic alloys possess the physical properties necessary to make useful wire. The metals must in the first place be ductile and strong in tension, the quality on which the utility of wire principally depends. The metals suitable for wire, possessing almost equal ductility, are platinum, silver, iron, copper, aluminum and gold; and it is only from these and certain of their alloys with other metals, principally brass and bronze, that wire is prepared. By careful treatment extremely thin wire can be produced. Special purpose wire is however made from other metals (e.g. tungsten wire for light bulb and vacuum tube filaments, because of its high melting temperature).
An important point in wire-drawing is that of lubrication to facilitate the operation and to lessen the wear on the dies. Various lubricants, such as oil, are employed. Another lubrication method is to immerse the wire in a copper (II) sulfate solution, such that a film of copper is deposited which forms a kind of lubricant; this eases the wire-drawing considerably. In some classes of wire the copper is left after the final drawing to serve as a preventive of rust or to allow easy soldering.
The wire-drawing machines include means for holding the dies accurately in position and for drawing the wire steadily through the holes. The usual design consists of a cast-iron bench or table having a bracket standing up to hold the die, and a vertical drum which rotates and by coiling the wire around its surface pulls it through the die, the coil of wire being stored upon another drum or "swift" which lies behind the die and reels off the wire as fast as required. The wire drum or "block" is provided with means for rapidly coupling or uncoupling it to its vertical shaft, so that the motion of the wire may be stopped or started instantly. The block is also tapered, so that the coil of wire may be easily slipped off upwards when finished. Before the wire can be attached to the block, a sufficient length of it must be pulled through the die; this is effected by a pair of gripping pincers on the end of a chain which is wound around a revolving drum, so drawing the pincers along, and with them the wire, until enough is through the die to be coiled two or three times on the block, where the end is secured by a small screw clamp or vice ready for the drawing operation. Wire has to be pointed or made smaller in diameter at the end before it can be passed through the die; the pointing is done by hammering, filing, rolling or swaging in dies, which effect a reduction in diameter. When the wire is on the block the latter is set in motion and the wire is drawn steadily through the die; it is very important that the block shall rotate evenly and that it shall run true and pull the wire in an even manner, otherwise the "snatching" which occurs will break the wire, or at least weaken it in spots.
Continuous wire-drawing machines differ from the single-block machines in having a series of dies through which the wire passes in a continuous manner. The difficulty of feeding between each die is solved by introducing a block between each, so that as the wire issues it coils around the block and is so helped on to the next die. The speeds of the blocks are increased successively, so that the elongation due to drawing is taken up and slip compensated for. The operation of threading the wire first through all the dies and around the blocks is termed "stringing-up." The arrangements for lubrication include a pump which floods the dies, and in many cases also the bottom portions of the blocks run in lubricant. The speeds at which the wire travels vary greatly, according to the material and the amount of reduction effected.
For the heavier cables, used for electric light and power, and submarine cables, the machines are somewhat different in construction. The wire is still carried through a hollow shaft, but the bobbins or spools of covering material are set with their spindles at right angles to the axis of the wire, and they lie in a circular cage which rotates on rollers below. The various strands coming from the spools at various parts of the circumference of the cage all lead to a disk at the end of the hollow shaft. This disk has perforations through which each of the strands pass, thence being immediately wrapped on the cable, which slides through a bearing at this point. Toothed gears having certain definite ratios are used to cause the winding drum for the cable and the cage for the spools to rotate at suitable relative speeds which do not vary. The cages are multiplied for stranding with a large number of tapes or strands, so that a machine may have six bobbins on one cage and twelve on the other.
Insulating and jacketing of wires and cables is done by passing them through an extruder. Since the mid-1960s, the insulation has been plastic or polymers exhibiting properties similar to rubber.
Stranded wire is composed of a bundle of small-gauge wires to make a larger conductor, which may optionally be insulated. Stranded wire is more flexible than a solid strand of the same total gauge. Stranded conductors are commonly used for electrical applications carrying small signals, such as computer mouse cables, and for power cables between a movable appliance and its power source; for example, sweepers, table lamps, powered hand tools, welding electrode cables, mining machines and trailing machine cables.
At high frequencies, current travels near the surface of the wire because of the skin effect, resulting in increased power loss in the wire. Stranded wire might seem to reduce this effect, since the total surface area of the strands is greater than the surface area of the equivalent solid wire, but in fact a simple stranded wire will have worse skin effect than a solid wire, because of its increased average resistivity due to inclusion of air gaps within the wire.
However, for many high-frequency applications, proximity effect is more severe than skin effect, and in some limited cases, simple stranded wire can reduce proximity effect. For better performance at high frequencies, litz wire, which has the individual strands insulated and twisted in special patterns, can be used.
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