Enhanced USBs Bring Data and Power to Harsh Environments

By AJ Born | May 28, 2024

Enhanced USBs consist of a standard interface in a military shell and come in all the same versions as regular USBs.

USB (universal serial bus) connectors are widely used to connect electronic devices and peripherals. The popularity of USBs stems from their compatibility with a range of platforms and operating systems, their ability to transmit both data and power, their ease of use, and their low cost. When those connections take place in harsh environments, enhanced USBs ensure their reliability and performance.

Enhanced USB products were developed largely for military and aerospace applications that require rugged construction to operate in a variety of extreme environmental conditions. Today they are also used in industrial applications, oil & gas production, construction, agriculture, and other areas where exposure to the elements is a factor. “What makes these products enhanced is additional testing and adherence to environmental specifications,” said Natalie Emerson, product specialist – rugged network solutions at Amphenol Pcd.

On the market over a decade, Amphenol Pcd’s line of USB-A connectors is the largest and the longest running of its enhanced USB connector portfolio. These consist of a standard USB-A interface within a military standard housing to enhance its ruggedization and allows it to meet all the necessary specifications. This interface is offered in USB2.0 and USB3.2 Gen 1 speeds.

On the market over a decade, Amphenol Pcd’s line of USB-A connectors is the largest and the longest running of its enhanced USB connector portfolio. These consist of a standard USB-A interface within a military standard housing to enhance its ruggedization and allows it to meet all the necessary specifications. This interface is offered in USB2.0 and USB3.2 Gen 1 speeds.

Another plus for customers is the ability of these interconnects to provide ruggedness while maintaining the familiarity of this ubiquitous technology. Enhanced USBs put a standard interface in a military shell. They come in all the same versions as regular USBs.

USB-A, the larger interface, available in 2.0 or 3.0 speed, is requested most often, but the recently introduced USB-C is gaining favor. “Often, the trends of the military market follow those of the commercial market, and everyone is moving toward smaller and faster connections. That is where rugged USB-C connectors come in. These have improved upon previous versions and provide higher data speeds (10 Gb/s), medium power delivery, and video display capabilities. They are smaller in size, compared to the USB-A connectors, which allows customers to save space in their applications,” said Emerson.

Amphenol Pcd’s rugged USB-C connectors improve on previous versions with 10 GB/s data rate speed and video display capabilities.

Amphenol Pcd’s rugged USB-C connectors improve on previous versions with 10 GB/s data rate speed and video display capabilities.

Customers request enhancements to protect against a variety of conditions.

Temperature and humidity. Military and other harsh environment applications often require electronics that can perform in a wide range of temperatures (-40° C to + 85° C) and high humidity (21 days, 43° C, 98% humidity).

Ingress protection. A rating of IP68 when mated seals against fluid and dust. This is important in the field, on ground vehicles that are driven through mud, on a Navy ship where missiles are being launched, and other similar situations.

Stewart Connector’s SealJack coupled with a sealed housing design

Moisture and other environmental factors limit the capabilities of electronics. Stewart Connector’s SealJack coupled with a sealed housing design provides reliable connectivity in demanding environments. Light and compact, it can be used to transmit up to 480 Mb/s.

EMI (electromagnetic interference) protection. A strong, uninterrupted signal is important for operational safety and security. Within an electronic device or where multiple devices are operating in proximity to one another, EMI can negatively impact signal performance and quality.

Salt spray resistance. Electronic components subjected to salt spray are at risk of corrosion. Enhanced USB connectors in this environment require materials and platings that are salt spray resistant up to 1000 hours.

Fire retardant/low smoke. Devices that have a potential risk of exposure to fire require compounds that are flame retardant, halogen-free (EN45545), and low smoke (UL94 V0).

Shock and vibration resistance. Trucks and equipment traveling over rough terrain, oil rigs, and communication or surveillance towers all potentially subject electronics to high levels of shock and vibration. An IK06 rating for shock resistance protects against 1 joules of impact, the equivalent to the impact of a 0.25kg mass dropped from 400mm above the impacted surface. Enhanced USBs are tested for vibration resistance (how long, hard, and fast they can be shaken without breaking). The devices are tested in all three spatial axes, against a range of frequencies (10-50Hz), and acceleration from gravity (10g).

The µ(micro)-com, or UCOM, miniature, high-speed USB connector series

The µ(micro)-com, or UCOM, miniature, high-speed USB connector series takes the trend toward smaller form-factor, high-speed connectors even further. This series runs USB3.2 Gen1 data speeds in a 15 mm diameter shell that is much smaller than the standard USB-A interface. Tested to all the same environmental standards, these connectors introduce a proprietary interface that contains four pairs of wires totally insulated throughout the connector to minimize cross talk.

 

quick-lock-usb-3-0-micro-drugged-micro-d-usb-3-0-connector-series

Quick Lock USB 3.0 connectors by Omnetics are sealed inside a rugged, battlefield tested and proven IP67 housing to ensure the highest levels of reliability while meeting USB 3.0 high-speed digital expectations (up to 5.0 Gb/s). These connectors use a halogen-free cable jacket for environmental sustainability and support high IR reflow temperatures up to 255 °C while maintaining solder mount capability. Once mated, this ruggedized high-speed connection is secure and waterproof to IP68 standards.

Materials and platings 

“Another important area of enhancement is the materials and platings that we use specifically for military, to make sure those systems can last a long time in these really harsh environments,” Emerson said. Most of the products in Amphenol’s USB range have aluminum shells. The most popular plating is green olive drab cadmium, but, she explained, customers are starting to move away from cadmium, which has been found to be carcinogenic, to black zinc nickel, which is just as robust. Marine bronze is another option, but it is much heavier and specific to naval applications. An aluminum shell with standard nickel plating is a little less rugged and, therefore, more cost effective. It may be appropriate for military systems that don’t need such a high degree of rugged ability.

Rugged USBs require rugged accessories that withstand wide temperature ranges, shock and vibration, salt spray, and fluid and dust.

Rugged USBs require rugged accessories that withstand wide temperature ranges, shock and vibration, salt spray, and fluid and dust. Rugged memory keys (left) are reinforced to protect sensitive information in a secure housing. USB amplifiers act as a plug-and-play USB signal extension cord to extend a USB signal beyond the standard ~5 m or 3 m distance.

Everyday ruggedness

Many portable and consumer devices, often subjected to fluids and drop impacts, also benefit from rugged construction. Digital cameras, eBooks, GPSX, IoT, laptops, MP3 players, medical devices, portable storage devices, smart phones, tablets, wearables, and vehicle infotainment systems benefit from enhanced USBs, such as Hirose’s rugged, waterproof USB 2.0 Type-C connector. The IP8X-rated CX90MW6 mid-mount and IPX4-rated CX90BW top mount connectors deliver rugged performance in a wide range of consumer, industrial, and automotive applications. These connectors include a front sealing gasket that prevents water penetration into the shell, while potting prevents water intrusion into the connector interior. The IPX8 rated CX90MW6 mid-mount meets the requirements for immersion in 1.5 meter of water for 30 minutes. The IPX4-rated CX90BW top mount protects from splashing water no matter the direction. Both are also resistant to shock and vibration.

Hirose’s CX90 Series connectors combine quick USB charging with rugged performance.

With a current rating of 6A, Hirose’s CX90 Series connectors combine quick USB charging with rugged performance. The small, waterproof USB 2.0 Type-C connectors support data rates up to 480 Mb/s.

Enhanced USBs deliver USB signal, data, power, and charge in harsh environments of all types: on a battlefield, on a ship, on an oil rig, in a vehicle, and on a tablet or smartphone.

To learn more about the companies mentioned in this article, visit the Preferred Supplier pages for Amphpenol Pcd, Hirose Electric, Omnetics Connector Corporation and Stewart Connector.

Like this article? Check out our other Technology Trends, Harsh Environment, Mil/Aero Market articles, and our 2024 Article Archives.

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AJ Born
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