Matthias Oettl, Division Manager – Military & Aerospace, Heilind
The modern military and aerospace sectors face twin growing but vital challenges in design: the need to minimise component weight to optimise efficiency, and so cut fuel usage and the number of refuelling stops; and the need to gather and transfer as much information as possible, ideally in real time, to inform operational decision-making – all while maintaining optimal reliability in sectors where failure cannot be countenanced.
Modern military aircraft, ships and other vehicles are typically equipped with a vast number of highly sophisticated cameras and sensors, all gathering vast amounts of data which need to be rapidly assimilated, manipulated and analysed.
The challenges of data handling and lightweighting are to some degree contrary – as conveying and storing more information is likely at some point to require both more numerous and broader cables, with connectors to match, and physically larger, and therefore heavier, onboard repositories for data storage.
These data handling requirements fly in the face of the drive for lightweighting and place greater pressures on designers of components to develop clever designs which make optimal use of the variety of materials available to minimise weight without compromising on data gathering capabilities.
A third consideration is to minimise the use of hazardous materials wherever possible. For example, cadmium was used for many years in plating, but has now been superseded by other, safer materials, such as zinc-nickel.
To save on space, designers are now increasingly using rectangular connectors, instead of circular products. This allows them to be stacked and so make better use of all available space. A further advantage of modern rectangular connectors is that the insert can be easily removed. This means the connector can be left in place when modules are changed.
Meanwhile, more rapid data transfer is being assured through the wider use of Quadrax technology in connectors. An alternative to RJ45 and USB connectors, these take the form of a single connector containing four individual contacts.
For aerospace applications in particular, weight is paramount and any opportunity to reduce the weight of key components must be acted upon.
In application requirements where a metallic material is required – these days, typically only the case in engine compartments which are subject to extremes of temperature – stainless steel has largely fallen out of favour to be replaced by titanium, which offers a substantial weight saving as high as 40 per cent when compared with stainless steel.
However, this comes at a significant financial cost, so wherever possible, non-metallic materials are now used. Materials development continues to gather pace, and modern composite materials are able to offer sustained and reliable performance in applications such as control units while also delivering when it comes to minimising weight, with a typical reduction of some 30 per cent when compared with the same item in aluminium.
This is despite required design alterations, for example the inclusion of a thicker connector flange than would be needed on a composite connector to maintain the same level of physical integrity. It is fair to say that any concerns previously held by specifiers have now largely been allayed by developments in the quality and performance of composites.
Meanwhile, the trend towards the use of fibre optic cables continues, replacing copper products and offering advantages in terms of both lighter weight and optimised data handling capability.
Smaller and more intricate components come with their own challenges when it comes to installation, meaning the entire installation process has to be factored into the earliest design stage as access for maintenance, and repair and replacement of miniaturised components, is far more challenging
Components for use in aerospace applications must also undergo particularly rigorous testing, and have ideally to conform to both EN4165 (aviation) as well as VG96513 (military).
One typical example of a connector of this kind is the EN4165 range from connectors. Emanating from a range originally designed in the mid-1980s, the current portfolio is one of the most widely used connector styles for cabin applications in commercial aerospace due to its modularity, flexibility and reliability, as well as space and weight saving capabilities. Available in both multi-cavity and single-module configurations, the range provides compact, lightweight connectivity, with options for signal, coaxial, microcoax, quadrax, power, optical and thermocouple contacts.
The latest products in this range incorporate composite housings, aluminium wire capability, fibre optics, higher densities, and shunting configurations. Meanwhile, EN4165 shells are available in lightweight aluminium alloy or composite, with nickel or cadmium plating, to withstand harsh environments. For EMI protection, the connectors come with 360° shielding on the shell interfaces.
This type of modular product range is typical of modern connector ranges combining optimal material choice with modular design to meet a broad spectrum of in-service requirements for both military and aerospace applications.
For further information visit www.heilind.de.
About Heilind Electronics
Heilind Electronics (http://www.heilind.de) is one of the world’s leading distributors of connectors, relays, sensors, switches, thermal management and circuit protection products, terminal blocks, wires and cables, wiring accessories and insulation and identification products. Founded in 1974, Heilind has offices in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong and China.
Heilind’s portfolio also includes services such as prototype sampling, rewinding of contacts to smaller packaging units, specific contract printing of housing, fuse and barcode labels as well as high temperature and traceability marking.
Heilind Electronics Europe
Heilind Electronics GmbH
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