Cold Weather Connectivity
For special installations like the Winter Olympics, as well as applications such as vehicles and devices that routinely operate in cold climates, electronics must be ruggedized against low temperatures.
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics showcased human endurance in the most extreme cold conditions as athletes performed on ice, in snow, and in frigid air. The electronic systems that brought the Games to viewers around the world — and kept the Olympics infrastructure functioning — also endured these bitterly cold conditions. Temperatures plummeted to -16°C (3.2°F) during the events in China and the weather became even more challenging during periods of high winds and snow. Just as high-performance fabrics keep the athletes from freezing, ruggedized design features protect electronics.
Rugged interconnects are designed to perform in the most extreme conditions on Earth or beyond, enabling vehicles, infrastructure, and other electronic systems to transmit and receive uninterrupted power and fast, clean signals despite the challenges posed by harsh environment operating conditions. Some electronics operate in continuous cold weather environments, such as food storage, medical cryogenics, oil and gas installations, and infrastructure found in high-altitude and arctic communities.
Other systems experience fluctuations between warm and cold temperatures. Vehicles that travel between climates subject electronics to high and low temperatures. Even within systems, electronics are installed in proximity to high heat units like engines within applications such as vehicles, snowmobiles, or marine applications that operate in cold climates. Fluctuating extremes of temperature, called temperature cycling, can affect connectors that aren’t ruggedized for both high heat and extreme low temperatures. Connector materials may expand and contract under temperature changes, affecting connector mating integrity, causing cracking or damage to components, introducing moisture, and impairing system performance.
At the 2022 Winter Games, played a key role in protecting outdoor equipment from below-freezing temperatures and snow. Electronics used in broadcast systems, snow- and ice-making equipment, vehicles, scoreboards, ski lifts, security, and lighting systems needed ruggedized, sealed interconnects. But cold weather connectivity is a factor in everyday applications as well as special events.
Connector housing and cable jacketing materials that can endure thermal expansion and contraction without stress or damage, such as thermoplastics that are formulated to endure low temperatures, are important to rugged connector design. Sealing is especially important in harsh environment components.
“Devices in the marine, industrial, and commercial vehicle markets must be ruggedized to withstand exposure to harsh environments,” said Elena Dugger, global product manager, Molex Power and Signal Solutions. Molex‘s Squba connector has been designed for harsh conditions that include potential water exposure or immersion. The popular connector has recently been granted an IP68 rating. “Squba checks all the boxes when customers need a solution that is UL, IP68 rated and tested to a wide temperature range while performing well in space-constrained applications to accommodate increasingly smaller devices.”
Comprehensive IP-rated sealing strategies, including hermetic sealing within the connector and overmolding around the exterior, are essential; if moisture enters mated connections, it will expand when temperatures drop below freezing and disrupt the integrity of the mated pair. Choosing a connector with sealing elements, like O-rings made from Viton, which can meet lower operating temperatures (rated to -40°C), is important. Chromium-plated brass connectors, which can resist extreme temperatures ranging from -100°C to +200°C, are one material option designed for these conditions.
Full submersion in undersea or cold water, as well as melting snow, adds additional challenges to interconnects. Sealing is critical, as the infiltration of moisture and condensation can cause damage to the internal components when it refreezes and in its liquid state it can introduce corrosion. “Devices in the marine, industrial, and commercial vehicle markets must be ruggedized to withstand exposure to harsh environments,” said Elena Dugger, global product manager, Molex Power and Signal Solutions. Molex’s Squba connector is IP68 rated and tested to a wide temperature range while performing well in space-constrained applications to accommodate increasingly smaller devices.
Extreme cold conditions may call for a custom solution or close collaboration with a connector supplier to make sure the components selected for a system can endure the specific conditions an application will face in the field. “Many of our current connector products are the result of customer-driven demand. We’ve helped create many successful OEM projects that incorporated overmolding, custom cable assembly, custom backshells, and other harsh environment strategies,” said Ben Hamilton, NorComp’s digital marketing specialist. “For example, a heavy lift drone manufacturer based out of Norway has designed in NorComp’s 822K series QUIK-LOQ connectors for quick-connect battery charging in severe climates. These drones are capable of carrying weights up to 150 kg and they require a quick recharge after every flight mission.”
Additional testing is required for electronics that are exposed to extreme cold while operating in military applications. MIL-spec connectors must meet approval through the U.S. Military Standard 810, Test Methods 502.6 (low temperature). This test evaluates components for temperatures as low as -55°C or -65°C for cold storage and -40°C for operational equipment. For other markets, connector suppliers subject their components to a variety of stress testing, looking for mating integrity, materials durability, embrittlement of gaskets and seals, and performance of circuitry under extreme cold conditions. The goal is to provide customers with a durable solution that wins in every category.
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