The connector marketplace is one of the most diverse and interesting in the entire electronics industry.
The roles that connectors are required to play range from the smallest data connections to the largest power supplies.
They are frequently used in some of the toughest conditions on Earth and despite this are expected to provide remarkable levels of reliability. As a result, the industry has responded with a quite bewildering array of choices.
Many connectors are designed as solutions for specific markets. When faced with the entire connector marketplace, we therefore often ignore certain connectors from our potential list of choices, because we assume they do not cater to our own industry. This is quite understandable, as specifying a connector can be a little daunting.
After a time, these assumptions can become rules that we create for ourselves. However, when it comes to connectors, many of these rules can be broken. When creating a new device, the key task for any engineer should be to pick the product that will best solve their design challenge, and as with many things in life there are often more ways than one to proceed. If we ignore the rules and investigate products that we would normally disregard, there are surprising things we can learn.
This is not limited to the world of connectors, or even the electronics industry. The largest tyre manufacturer in the world is not Continental or Dunlop, it is the Danish toy company LEGO. And who would have imagined that global giant Volkswagen makes more sausages than cars every year? Although these examples are not of hugely practical value (unless you want a Currywurst sausage, in which case I can thoroughly recommend the Volkswagen product), the connector industry does offer some intriguing possibilities.
There are entire categories of products that were designed for one application but are suited for others. I have long been an advocate for the use of automotive connectors in industrial settings. Connectors intended for use in vehicles have much to offer the industrial engineer. They have been designed to survive the harsh conditions found in some of the most demanding environments, from extremes of temperature to mud and dirt contamination.
Automotive-grade connectors are designed for use in mass-produced vehicles, and they are made in huge quantities for the global market. This makes them cost-effective and easy to obtain. It also means that the tooling and expertise needed to terminate them are easy to find.
The automotive industry is not alone in its need for dedicated connectors. The military and aerospace sector has always had a lot to say about the connectors it uses. A significant number of connectors are created to provide the high performance demanded by the defence industry. They are made to work in tough conditions, which are not always limited to the battlefield.
Geological instrumentation, industrial automation, commercial vehicles – the list of potential applications for which a high-performance connector might be suitable is virtually endless. Engineers the world over need a connector that may be mated and unmated frequently, that could
be exposed to wind and weather, or must be shielded against unwanted electromagnetic interference (EMI). If any of these conditions sound familiar, then a connector designed to military requirements might provide a solution.
When it comes to choosing connectors, there is often a different way to achieve your goal. The conventional view can make us assume that a particular product type will not be suitable for our needs. But that same conventional view can stop us from seeing the tremendous innovation that occurs throughout the industry.
Do not let convention dictate how you choose connectors. Allow your engineering needs to be the guide that leads you to a solution. Be clear about the features you require, decide on the connector that suits your application, and ignore the rules.
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