Planning High-Reliability Aerospace Systems with Hermetic Connectors

By Steve Thumbeck | September 27, 2022

Hermetic connectors protect critical electronic systems from harsh environments. Designing in these specialized components requires strategic planning to reduce costs, mitigate risks, increase performance, and maximize longevity.

Look up. Millions of hermetic connectors are in the skies above us, creating essential links between cables and electronic circuits in aerospace and defense systems. Found in satellites, space-bound equipment, commercial and military aircraft, and more, these small connectors facilitate communications, navigation, propulsion, fuel, in-flight entertainment, safety, and other critical flight systems — and in doing so, make travel around the world and into space possible. These rugged, durable, and high-reliability connectors are designed to perform in challenging aeronautics and space environments and can withstand extreme conditions, including thermal and mechanical shock.

Two types of circular connectors are commonly specified for aeronautics applications. The EN2997 Y and MIL-DTL-38999 Class Y hermetic connectors are used throughout European and American airframes and weapons systems. These high-performance panel connectors are used in the cockpits and other positions throughout the aircraft. They are ruggedized against potential exposure to Skydrol LD-4, strong and caustic cleaning fluids, ethylene glycol, trichloroethane, kerosene, and high-pressure oils and gases. Over the lifespan of the aircraft — which may be in use for decades — these connectors endure the pressure differential of high altitudes and temperature swings from subzero to above 200 °C without degradation of materials or performance.

Most electronic connectors contain plastic that allows air and gases to leak into the device. A hermetic connector blocks all liquids, gases, dust, and debris from passing through, protecting the electric signal from external elements. For this reason, while hermetic connectors represent a minor part of the system’s cost, they are essential to high reliability in harsh and extreme environments.

Qualified hermetic seals from Sealtron

Qualified hermetic seals from Sealtron.

Specifying hermetic connectors that can handle the unique conditions of air and space travel can be complicated, especially when combined with manufacturing timelines and budget constraints that many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) face.

Managing supply-chain risk is a major factor for OEMs to consider when purchasing hermetic connectors for aerospace and defense systems. Long lead times, late deliveries, and inventory shortages can lead to manufacturing downtime and schedule disruptions. Quality, delivery, rigorous production, manufacturing controls, and customer service need to be considered, along with price. However, understanding these challenges and implementing proactive strategies, with the help of a trusted partner, can ensure success.

Four key factors can mitigate risk, increase value, and lead to successful business outcomes when buying hermetic connectors.

1) The Role of Price

Hermetic connector production is labor intensive, which adds costs. High-reliability markets should evaluate low-priced products very carefully, as this route may harbor risks such as lower product quality, longer lead times, and inconsistent deliveries.

2) Reducing Lead Times

When there is clear communication between an OEM and a connector supplier, upfront and ongoing forecasting can give a supplier insight into the production timetable so they can accurately plan manufacturing and adjust accordingly.

3) Flexible Supply Chains

OEMs that value flexibility should partner with suppliers that offer an inventory management system, have multiple factories, or have systems that are more vertically integrated. This enables suppliers to reduce lead times.

4) On-Time Delivery

On-time delivery is critical for the OEM to keep production lines running. Clear communication between OEMs and suppliers, accuracy of the information contained in contracts, purchase orders, engineering drawings, etc., can have a significant impact on a supplier’s ability to deliver on schedule.

Sourcing products for the aerospace and defense markets involves striking the right balance between price, availability, and contract flexibility. With specific technical and design expertise for these applications, the right partner can solve unique challenges by modifying standard products, designing new components, and manufacturing them in real-world quantities to meet an OEM’s specific requirements.

To learn more about what to consider when purchasing hermetic connectors, download our free whitepaper today.

Sealtron white paper - Insider's guide to purchasing hermetic connectors

By Steve Thumbeck, Sales Director for Sealtron at AMETEK Interconnect Technologies

Like this article? Check out our other Harsh Environment, High-Reliability, and How to Specify articles, our Mil/Aero Industry articles, and 2022 Article Archives.

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Steve Thumbeck
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