Valerie Ramon, Business Manager of electromechanical and connectors at distributer; RS Components explores some industry money making ‘movers and shakers’ and the effects of the downturn on the connector industry

Despite the economic downturn, innovation is continuing in the connector industry. ‘Green’ applications and other growing markets like medical electronics are prompting manufacturers to bring out ranges of products designed specifically for this purpose. The industry hasn’t been immune to the effects of the downturn of course and there has been a weeding out of less popular variants from the standard connector catalogue.

Renewable energy

One of the most promising markets for electronics as we emerge from the downturn is renewable energy and energy saving solutions. Lighting in commercial and domestic buildings uses a lot of electricity and there is growing interest in using LEDs as an energy efficient and long lasting light source. Tyco has responded to this opportunity with a new family of hermaphroditic blade and receptacle wire-board and board-board connectors, supporting the increasingly popular strips of LED lights that are being produced to give effect lighting and to replace fluorescent tubes. Rated at 6A and 125VAC/DC, they are ideal for this class of application.

Electric and hybrid cars require small, light and cost-effective connectors that can cope with the very high DC currents. Solar energy is another growing market with exacting requirements to meet. Solar panel installations feature a series of connectors between the module and the inverter, often linking multiple panels in the same installation. The requirement here is for a low loss, easy to use push in – pull out connector that meets the demanding safety and environmental requirements of this application. Each connector needs to be well protected against UV radiation and water alike, have the required UL/ DIN / VDE strain relief and should feature a safety clip that prevents un-mating without the appropriate tool to meet NEC 2008 standards. The systems need to be low loss, so that as little as possible of the hard-won renewable electricity is dissipated as heat downstream of the panel.

Medical solutions

Medical instruments are always exposed to fluid spillage and should be designed to operate correctly and reliably even when used by non-specialist staff under considerable pressure. They are also normally fairly costly and in consequence manufacturers tend to look for connectors that look and feel good, work reliably over a large number of mating cycles and stand up to rough handling. The new Redel range of plastic connectors is typical of the products specified here. Features include a self latching system that allows the connector to be mated securely with a simple push action and then holds it in place firmly in the face of stress on the cable. When required, a straight pull on the release sleeve disengages the latches and withdraws the plug from the socket.

A correctly assembled crimp is a reliable and durable form of interconnection, but there is something of a knack to achieving perfection. Over-crimping can produce a connection with increased electrical resistance that is prone to heating. Equally, under-crimping can create a loose connection causing losses and the risk that the cable becomes detached altogether.

Increasingly, crimp manufacturers are offering bespoke tools with dies to assemble a specific connector to a specific cable, which gives a perfect crimp every time. For example, Molex has developed a full line of crimp and extraction tools in line with its KK series of “building block” connectors.

The thinning of the credit crunch

Despite the economic conditions, connector manufacturers have continued to support most major families of connectors. However, there is no doubt that almost all have reduced the scope of their standard connector portfolio by removing the least popular variants. As a result the number of ways, housing styles, contact materials etc offered within the standard catalogue is now less than it was a year ago. Overlap within ranges, often the result of business acquisitions by manufacturers, has also been reduced, again reducing flexibility for the specifier. If production volumes are likely to be in the hundreds of thousands, the withdrawn products will still be accessible as specials but otherwise the range of solutions on offer isn’t quite what it was. It pays to give a little thought to the connector at a relatively early stage in the design process.