Five Recent Developments in the Automotive Connector Industry
Connector products are evolving to accommodate the new technologies that make the 21st century automobile an incredible machine.
By Tom Anderson, Connector Product Manager, AVX Interconnect
Electronic systems are behind the latest safety, efficiency, reliability, and drive experience innovations that have transformed cars in recent years. From improved connection options to durable new materials and integrated designs, connectors have been a critical part of these developments. Here are five ways today’s automotive connectors are contributing to the evolution of the automobile.
1. Press-fit or compliant pin technology continues to dominate new connector growth in complex automotive systems that require solderless connector attachment to PCBs. This technology has evolved from its initial deployment in 1970s-era backplane and telecommunications equipment to its present-day status as a popular, automotive-grade contact technology known for providing ultra-reliable, cold-welded, board-level connections capable of absorbing the thermal mismatch between different materials and components in harsh environments. The press-fit zone has been designed with enough elasticity to deform during the insertion process so that there is no damage to the plated through-hole, as that can jeopardize the long-term reliability of the connection. Once mated, press-fit contacts provide continuous high opposing beam forces within the hole, which generates a gas-tight connection that allows them to survive extreme temperatures, shock, and vibration, and makes them ideal for use in automotive applications.
2. Insulation displacement contact (IDC) technology has also evolved from its 1960s-era commercial and industrial roots into a premier termination method for solid or stranded discrete wires in critical automotive systems. Generally made with fatigue-resistant phosphor bronze material (just like compliant pin contacts), IDC contacts are elastic during the wire insertion process to avoid cutting into or degrading individual strands, and yet still have the material strength to generate plastic deformation within the conductors to provide a gas-tight, cold-welded termination that will deliver reliable performance in the harshest environments. Another unique feature of IDC connection technology is its compatibility with secondary coating, potting, and overmolding processes, allowing users to waterproof their device without affecting the connection’s integrity in any way — unlike traditional, elastic-only contact systems, which are vulnerable to potting material ingress during both the potting process and thermal expansion.
3. The most recent evolution in press-fit and IDC contact technology for automotive applications is a new connector that combines industry-proven press-fit PCB board termination and IDC discrete wire connection properties into a single, simple wire-to-board connector system for discrete 18–24AWG wires. This new solution provides designers with reliable, cost-effective alternatives to the two-piece connector systems currently on the market, and is rated for 6–10A depending on wire size, 125V, operating temperatures spanning -40°C to +125°C, and a single termination cycle.
Benefits of this new, combined connector technology include redundant contact systems for enhanced wire retention and PCB attachment capabilities; robust resistance to extreme temperatures, shock, vibration, and thermal expansion over long lifetimes; and compatibility with potting, overmolding, and coating processes without any risk of ingress. These new connectors also allow users to connect two PCBs that are in close proximity, but not in the same orientation or alignment location for a traditional board-to-board connector more reliably than the FFC/FPC cables typically used to jumper between two zero insertion force (ZIF) connectors, especially in high-vibration applications, as well as provide improved implementation efficiency over FFC/FPC connectors through the use of multiple color-coded discrete wire gauges with high current-carrying capabilities, which facilitates easier and more traditional wire dressing and routing through a vehicle. Additionally, dual assembly methodologies allow for pre-installation on a PCB during the board build process. This means that wires can either be inserted and pressed into place with any standard flat rock seating tool upon final assembly or pre-installed on a wiring harness so users simply have to press the connectors into a PCB for final assembly.
4. The electronic modules employed in automobiles used to be complicated, costly, and heavy sealed cast metal enclosures that housed PCBs populated with connectors and other components in an input/output configuration and sealed them from external elements using lids and gaskets. Thanks to today’s advanced molding and manufacturing processes, these types of modules have been replaced with integrated, insert-molded plastic housings and lids that are much lighter and less expensive than previous iterations. Insert-molded header pins provide a sealed electrical connection to the outside world and direct press-fit attachment to the internal PCB, while two-shot molding technology integrates silicone gasket material directly into the lid, eliminating standalone gaskets, which require manual assembly prior to lid attachment.
5. Mechatronic connector assemblies are also fueling more advanced automotive solutions. Integrating multiple contact geometries, bus bars, lead frames, coils, capacitors, fastening hardware, and other components can create a unified, multifunction connector solution in a single package. These increasingly popular assemblies eliminate multiple sourcing channels, as well as costly placement, handling, and assembly challenges on the assembly line, by providing streamlined, integrated solutions.
Visit AVX online to learn more about connector solutions for automotive applications.
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