Ruggedization and miniaturization trends in connector design

Ruggedization and miniaturization trends in connector design

Market news |
By Nick Flaherty

Molex has published a report on ruggedized, miniature connector trends across a range of industries.

The need for compact, reliable interconnects and connector design extends beyond automotive to consumer electronics, industrial automation, medical devices and smart agriculture says Molex.

Advanced materials science, innovative design techniques and evolving manufacturing processes reduce roadblocks for the development of the next generation of compact, durable connectors says the report. Molex defines miniature connectors as having a pitch of 2.54mm or less while ruggedness refers to features for withstanding the harshest environments and mechanical stresses.

The convergence of ruggedization and miniaturization in connector design has enabled major innovations in the automotive industry, especially in supporting electric vehicles (EVs) and zonal architectures. Now the trend is permeating other industries, including consumer electronics (e.g., fitness trackers, smartwatches and smart home devices); industrial automation (e.g., industrial robots, touchscreens and sensors); as well as medical devices (e.g., endoscopes, insulin pumps and wearable health monitors).

Growing adoption of compact, durable connectors is gaining traction in other application areas, such as smart agriculture. Vertical farming systems with dense sensor and lighting installations require space-efficient connectors that work in wet, humid environments without interruption. Smaller, lighter and rugged connectors found in agricultural drones also must be protected against extreme temperature and excessive vibration, along with exposure to moisture, dust and corrosive chemicals.

Aluminum alloys and specialized, high-strength steel, as well as high-performance polymers, offer exceptional durability and lightweight construction. Processing these materials into complex connector geometries, however, often calls for specialized techniques, ranging from micro-molding and high-precision machining to laser welding or selective plating.

In addition, dense pitch layouts enable higher-contact density to accommodate smaller device footprints, but they require high-precision manufacturing and assembly. Increased risk of crosstalk and ineffective heat dissipation also can occur. To mitigate these issues, engineers can rely on advanced signal routing techniques, shielding and isolation methods, along with advanced thermal management strategies like heat sinks or thermal vias. Molex DuraClik Connectors for example use housings made from high-temperature PBT material and secure terminal retention to withstand extreme automotive environments.

Multi-Functional Terminals (MFTs) represent a significant leap forward in miniaturized connector technology by integrating multiple functionalities — power, signal and even mechanical features, like locking mechanisms, into a single compact connector.

The report also investigates top environmental factors that can compromise component reliability while offering strategies and solutions to ensure optimal connector performance in harsh conditions. Strain relief features and contact design help optimize connector performance despite constant exposure to the stresses of vibration, shock and repeated mating cycles.

“Increasing demand for electronics in new vehicle platforms has intensified the need for smaller and rugged interconnects designed to withstand the harshest environments,” said Carrieanne Piccard, VP and GM, Transportation Innovative Solutions, Molex. “As a result, the ruggedization of miniaturized connectors has emerged as an overarching design principle, requiring a holistic approach across the entire lifecycle of components to achieve optimal product reliability, performance and longevity.”

Since even a single drop of water or speck of dust can create corrosion, shorts, and ultimately, device failure, ingress protection is essential. IP68-rated seals certified as resistant to nearly five feet of water for 30 minutes allow compact connectors to optimize power delivery in one of the smallest, most durable form factors available.

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