Molex report looks at connector design trends

25th June 2024
Caitlin Gittins

Molex has published a report detailing the significant role of ruggedised, miniaturised interconnect solutions in driving innovation in electronic devices across an expanding array of industries. 

Titled “Breaking Boundaries: Uniting Ruggedisation and Miniaturisation in Connector Design,” the report delves into current trends, compromises, and enabling technologies that are overcoming obstacles and shaping the future of electronics.

“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 miniaturised 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.”

The report by Molex categorises miniature connectors as those with a pitch no greater than 2.54mm, while ruggedness pertains to their ability to endure extreme environments and mechanical stresses. This fusion of ruggedisation and miniaturisation is spurring significant innovations, notably in the automotive sector with support for electric vehicles (EVs) and zonal architectures, and is now spreading to other sectors such as consumer electronics (e.g., fitness trackers, smartwatches, smart home devices), industrial automation (e.g., industrial robots, touchscreens, sensors), and medical devices (e.g., endoscopes, insulin pumps, wearable health monitors).

Moreover, the uptake of compact, durable connectors is also increasing in areas like smart agriculture. Vertical farming systems, which incorporate dense sensor and lighting setups, require space-efficient connectors that perform reliably in damp, humid conditions. Likewise, the rugged connectors used in agricultural drones must withstand extreme temperatures, vibration, moisture, dust, and corrosive chemicals.

The report from Molex also examines best practices for overcoming significant design and manufacturing challenges to create smaller, lighter, and more reliable connectors. Materials like aluminium alloys, specialised high-strength steel, and high-performance polymers provide excellent durability and lightness. However, forming these materials into complex connector geometries typically requires advanced techniques such as micro-moulding, high-precision machining, laser welding, or selective plating.

Additionally, while dense pitch layouts allow for a higher contact density within smaller device footprints, they can introduce issues such as crosstalk and inefficient heat dissipation. Engineers can address these problems using sophisticated signal routing, shielding, isolation methods, and advanced thermal management strategies including heat sinks or thermal vias. For instance, Molex DuraClik Connectors utilise housings made from high-temperature PBT material and secure terminal retention to endure extreme automotive conditions.

Multi-Functional Terminals (MFTs) represent a significant advancement in miniaturised connector technology by incorporating multiple functions—power, signal, and even mechanical features like locking mechanisms—into a single compact connector. The report also explores key environmental factors that could affect component reliability and provides strategies and solutions to ensure optimal connector performance in harsh conditions. Features such as strain relief and innovative contact designs help maintain connector performance despite the constant stresses of vibration, shock, and repeated mating cycles.

At the Molex Global Reliability Lab, engineers simulate real-world conditions such as vibration, temperature cycling, and exposure to harsh chemicals. Molex Micro-Lock Plus Connectors combat vibration issues with a positive locking mechanism that ensures secure mating while preventing accidental disconnections in high-vibration settings. The connector’s metal solder tabs offer additional strain relief to solder joints, enhancing resistance to mechanical stress and vibration.

Given that even a minute amount of water or dust can cause corrosion, short circuits, and ultimately, device failure, ingress protection is crucial. Molex’s Squba Connectors boast IP68-rated seals, certified as resistant to nearly five feet of water for 30 minutes. These compact connectors optimise power delivery in one of the smallest, most durable form factors available.

As electronic devices continually decrease in size while increasing in functionality, Molex engineers are advancing the limits of miniaturisation and ruggedisation to address real-world commercial challenges and surpass customer expectations.

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