Navigating the Connector Design Review Process
The primary purpose of a connector design review is to evaluate if the new product meets customer requirements. Here, Bill Garver of APEX Electrical Interconnection Consultants discusses the steps in the process and how to navigate them successfully.
There are usually several design reviews conducted throughout the new product development cycle for electrical connectors. These reviews occur when the product is ready to pass from one of several development phases to another. The primary purpose of a design review is to evaluate if the working design meets the customer’s requirements. The design review also provides a forum for all those involved in some aspect of the new product to voice his or her opinions, concerns, and approvals. Let’s look at some of the key considerations in the development and release of a typical new connector, such as one with stamped-and-formed contacts assembled into a polymeric housing.
As established in previous articles, the new product process consists of four specific phases:
Some of the disciplines that need to be involved in the review process are business planning, technical planning, development engineering, contact/terminal plating and manufacturing, insulator/housing manufacturing, assembly equipment, application tooling equipment, materials management, implementation, and release/launch. The design review team typically consists of representatives from the following departments: product management, development engineering, product assurance, manufacturing, application tooling engineering, sales/marketing, and supplier relations. It is very beneficial for the cross-functional members to determine and understand what all of the disciplines consider “critical items.”
These representatives indicate approval to proceed to the next phase by their buy-in and signature on the formal design review document. Often, the representative from the product assurance department will chair the meeting and document any action items that arise from the review, then assign an individual to carry out the actions. Depending on the nature of the action items, the product may still advance to the next phase. Successful completion of the action items will be addressed at the next review meeting.
Each of the disciplines generally has its own individual concerns. Some of the more important checklist items for each of the disciplines are discussed below.
Representatives from this discipline are responsible for documentation of the design objectives and the establishment of a cross-functional team. They establish a business plan that documents market potential, competition, cost and price objectives, and delivery schedules. Any changes to the business plan must be documented and distributed to the design review team as the program moves forward.
This team submits invention disclosures and institutes a patent search to ensure the design does not infringe on any existing patents and ultimately files the patent application. Agency approvals such as UL, CSA, VDC, etc., should be a review topic. In one of the later reviews, the results of the product design and manufacturing process failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) should be summarized.
Design engineers are responsible for the electrical and mechanical performance of the contact and the many trade-offs that ensure all design objectives are met. From an electrical standpoint, the theoretical and empirical bulk and contact resistance results should be reviewed. Regarding mechanical performance, analytical simulations supported by actual testing should demonstrate that the spring contact system has been evaluated to determine insertion, withdrawal, and normal forces and spring rates. Finite element analysis (FEA) plots should be available to pinpoint the maximum stress areas which can then be compared to yield strengths, highlighting potential over-stressing and permanent set problems for all flexing members (whether metal or plastic). Plating considerations, such as type, thickness, wear characteristics, solderability, and process compatibility, should also be reviewed in these sessions.
This team is responsible for ensuring that the contacts can be efficiently manufactured and safely handled through the stamping and plating processes. Stamping rates, material utilization, plating speeds, reeling and packaging, and quality assurance aspects must be considered.
Some of the key elements for review in this section are the results of an analytical simulation such as mold flow to guide the design of the product, mold, and molding process parameters.
Representatives involved in this discipline typically make suggestions regarding the most cost-effective tooling levels (manual, semi-automatic, full automation) and proper handling of individual component parts. Consideration of on-line inspection methods and equipment for fully automated assembly may be reviewed.
Application Tooling Equipment
Topics for discussion in this discipline are the appropriate levels of tooling to be designed and implemented, encompassing the full range from hand tools up through fully automatic processing equipment. Parallel design development efforts of application equipment may need to take place as a result of these decisions.
Items to be considered in this discipline are the promised product delivery dates and quantities in accordance with the business plan. The types and quantities of materials required, the availability and lead times of the materials from various suppliers, and their ready availability from internal inventory and the approved supply/vendor base are also considered.
In one of the later review phases, the successful completion of qualification testing to a documented product specification should be available. The manufacturing processes and tooling must be validated (and qualified) with sufficient production volume in order to demonstrate the ability to produce product for customers at acceptable yield levels.
In order for the product to be considered ready for launch:
- Various agency approvals (UL, CSA, VDE, etc.) will have been acquired.
- The outcome of the patent search and the status of a new patent application should be verified.
- Sufficient product should be in stores to satisfy initial/anticipated customer orders.
This addresses just a few of the relevant topics that may be discussed in a review of each of the identified disciplines. It is one of the important “checkpoint tools” that may be used to reduce risks inherent in the development and introduction of a new product.
Bill Garver of APEX Electrical Interconnection Consultants has 47 years experience in the connector industry, primarily in the management and direction of new product development and operational division management. He held the titles of division manager and director of development engineering at AMP. Garver developed new products throughout the full product life cycle, concept through introduction, for numerous industries including consumer, commercial, computer, industrial, communications, and medical.