Miniaturisation for rugged connectors: how small should they go?

Posted By Luke Hulley

As the world races ahead to develop increasingly advanced technology, electronic devices are becoming more compact, allowing more complexity and functionality to be packed into smaller spaces.

Mechanical and hydraulic components in the industrial sector are now being replaced by highly sophisticated electronics and telematics, enabling the development of automated production lines, robotics and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. Significant growth in the use of electronic systems and connected devices is also occurring in vertical sectors such as marine and subsea, oil and gas, transport, agriculture and renewable energy, all of which can be considered as being typically situated in harsh or extreme environments.

Growing demand for industrial connectors

Consequently, miniaturisation and rugged designs are two of the most common criteria for designers of industrial systems. The demand for miniaturisation has a knock-on effect for connector manufacturers supplying components to these system designers, particularly when it comes to applications where advanced technology is needed in harsh industrial or outdoor environments.

Connectors play a vital role here, as they not only have to be rugged enough to withstand dirt, dust, vibration, water and extreme temperatures, but they should also be small, fit for purpose and easy to use.

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Operational drawbacks

Industrial connections need to be reliable and fast, and in addition they often have to be made when wearing gloves. These operational requirements have a major impact on connector designs.

System designers and engineers therefore have to be cautious about reducing connector size for industrial and harsh environments, as going too small could impact negatively on practical functionality. Many of the miniature and sub-miniature connectors on the market are too fragile and small for fast, repetitive use in harsh environments, particularly when operators are handling them with gloves.

When considering the electrical practicalities of miniaturisation, the fact remains that a high voltage/high current connector for power distribution will always be larger in size than a low voltage/low current connector for the same materials, due to the physical and electrical performance characteristics of the materials. The challenges of miniaturising high voltage/high power connectors will thus be far greater than those for low voltage/low current connectors.

Journey to rugged miniaturisation

Although there are many obstacles to miniaturisation for industrial connectors, most will become solvable over time. It is certainly possible for them to shrink further while still retaining their rugged features, but this is tied to more extensive research and development as well as the cost production factor as a whole. Retaining the rugged qualities of the connectors also has to be balanced with the choice of materials and the cost to design, develop and then manufacture.

As a specialist manufacturer of rugged circular connectors, Bulgin’s products have generally become smaller over the years; however, this is dependent entirely upon the application and the systems for which they are intended.

One of Bulgin’s most compact series of connectors within the rugged Buccaneer range of circular power connectors is the 400 Series. These lightweight, miniature connectors offer highly reliable power or signal connections packaged into a compact form factor, giving engineers greater flexibility for designs requiring a smaller footprint. The applications where space is most commonly limited include medical, industrial, infrastructure and automotive.

 

 

Visit http://www.bulgin.com/ for more information.

Luke Hulley

Marketing Manager at Bulgin. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

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