Current Trends in Automotive Interconnects
Reliability, integration, and automation are three of the top trends currently driving the development of next-gen automotive interconnects.
Next-Gen Automotive Interconnects
Proven contact technology in automotive applications is mission critical. Cold-welded connections to a PCB will assure continuous gas-tight interfaces in even the harshest automotive and transportation environments. Press-fit or compliant pin contacts and insulation displacement contacts are two key cold-welded contact technologies.
Press-fit or compliant pin contacts provide a solderless attachment of either connectors onto a PCB or connectors into a module device. The press-fit zone has been designed with enough elasticity to deform during the insertion process so there’s no damage to the PTH, as well as to provide continuous high opposing beam forces within the hole to survive extreme temperatures, shock, and vibration.
Insulation displacement contacts (IDC) offer the same performance and reliability when attaching either discrete wires or leaded devices, such as electrolytic capacitors or coils, to a PCB. However, unlike most other contact technologies, IDC can be potted or overmolded to provide additional mechanical support and waterproofing in exterior applications.
Mechatronic systems like digitally controlled combustion engines and guided vehicles are a growing presence in the automotive industry, but the interdisciplinary trend of combining elements of mechanical and electrical engineering with elements from computer science, control design, systems engineering, telecommunications, and other disciplines has already thoroughly permeated the market. Integrating multifunctional capabilities within a single connector module can deliver significant cost and space savings in a final system. Individual design elements and components commonly integrated into automotive connector modules include:
- Press-fit PCB connections, which can provide both inter-board connections and input/output connectivity.
- Lead frames and bus bars. These simple, cost effective stampings can create PCB-like connectivity to individual components within the module.
- Discrete component attachments. IDC or defined contact geometries geared for automated welding attachment easily enable the attachment of capacitors, coils, and electronic packages.
- Enhanced molding processes. Insert molding delivers one-piece unit integration, and two-shot molding can add critical internal or external sealing capabilities.
- Mechanical features, such as brackets, bushings, and threaded inserts, can also be included to complete the packaging process.
Continuous advancement in connector assembly and automation is critical when producing the complex assemblies required to keep pace with the increasing complexity of automotive systems. Today’s high-end automotive interconnect systems are fully integrated with robotics, inspection, test, and packaging all within a single cell to maximize both capacity and consistency. This integration of multiple mechatronic-level components requires the highest level of machine technology available today, and frequently requires the development of entirely new processes and capabilities.
Author Tom Anderson, connector product manager at AVX, has been in the connector industry for more than 30 years and has held a variety of product marketing positions. For the last 10 years, he has focused on developing new connector technologies for the automotive, industrial, consumer, medical, transportation, and solid-state lighting markets. He can be reached at [email protected].