Sowing Seeds of Change With Smart Connections

By Contributed Article | March 26, 2018

Advanced Connectors Enable Smart Agriculture

Presented by Bulgin


Modern agriculture depends on advanced technologies. Leading electronics companies are providing new solutions to the agricultural sector that help make farming more productive, precise, and profitable.

Companies that make electronics for the agriculture market face a unique set of challenges, as agricultural environments are characterized by extreme temperatures and exposure to water, corrosive chemicals, and plenty of dirt and dust. These conditions call for rugged and resistant electronic components. When AgTech Insight designed its smart infield telemetry system, AgriCapture™, it needed to source highly reliable connectors to keep its systems performing in the field. That’s where Bulgin came in.

AgTech Insight, a California-based startup, provides hardware and software products for the global agriculture industry. Founders Aaron Magenheim and his long-time associate Jesse Martin develop user-friendly, sensor-based applications that enable farmers to harvest real-time data from their fields and greenhouse facilities. These tools allow them to precisely adjust fertilizer and pesticide applications to field conditions, monitor irrigation systems, avoid crop damage, increase operational efficiency, and reduce overall costs.

Intelligent Connectors for Complex Conditions

Magenheim and Martin realized their smart in-field telemetry system needed a special kind of connector. The system includes a mobile app so farmers can configure sensors from a smartphone and send information and instructions to equipment in the field, without the need for IT support. The right connector for this advanced new system wasn’t available off the shelf.

“The connectors had to be able to stand up to everything from freezing cold to desert heat, with the ability to sit in wet mud and resist direct spray from sprinklers,” said Martin.

AgTech Insight needed a reliable supplier of stable, ingress-proof, ruggedized, vibration-resistant connectors that could reliably withstand these challenging operating conditions. The company partnered with Bulgin, whose engineers worked closely with the AgTech Insight team, identifying all needs and eventually incorporating integrated electronics into their 400 Series Buccaneer range of rugged circular connectors to meet them.

What they needed was not only an “intelligent” connector with a built-in integrated circuit that would allow the connector to be electronically paired with the correct sensor, but also one that could perform these functions in the harshest possible environmental conditions.

“In addition to performing in wide-ranging temperatures and when exposed to water, dirt, mud, and more, we also needed them to connect very easily, to be cost-effective, and to be able to withstand months to years of disconnection and then reliably connect again without corrosion or other issues,” said Martin.

Magenheim said that he and Martin came across Bulgin when they looked outside of the agricultural sector to find best-in-class versions of each component they needed.

Collaboration and Testing

When Bulgin’s team was asked if it would be possible to mold the EEPROM device into the connector without causing any damage to the electronics, they embarked upon a feasibility study to determine whether any issues could arise from molding the device into the connector.

Bulgin looked into the materials, the temperatures they would be exposed to during the molding process, and whether or not the EEPROM would actually survive the molding process. After establishing that it would, Bulgin examined the PCB design to make sure that both it and the EEPROM would fit comfortably inside the mold tools.

Bulgin identified and assessed the risks and potential problems that could arise as a result of the integration and, after a series of rigorous tests, sent some trial prototypes to AgTech Insight for field-testing.

A Time- and Cost-Saving System

As a leading manufacturer of environmentally sealed connectors and components, Bulgin has a long history of developing innovative products and services to cater to its global customer base across a variety of markets. Bulgin’s Buccaneer circular connector range provides reliable, robust connections for power, signal, and data in challenging environments.

“When AgTech asked us if we could encapsulate an EEPROM device into a connector, they already had a particular range in mind,” said Christian Taylor, engineering team leader at Bulgin. “Before they approached us, they had already done some trials with the self-assembly version of our 400 Series Buccaneer connectors and had decided that this range was the one they wanted to go with, so we specifically adapted the existing range to meet their unique application requirements.”

The 400 Series is one of the most compact series of connectors in the Buccaneer range, and it is ideal for designs that require a small footprint. These miniature power connectors take a selection of the best features and specifications from the larger Buccaneer family members and condense them into a compact form factor, giving engineers greater flexibility in the design phase. 

A Simplified and Future-Proof Process

The Buccaneer-enabled AgriCapture system has obvious advantages over a low-tech labelling system for pairing connectors with devices. The design enables users to easily pair each sensor with the correct connector on the harness. This eliminates the possibility of misuse or mismating cables and sensors in the fields.

“If, for any reason, the connectors become unplugged or disconnected, their unique design allows users to quickly and easily identify exactly where the problem is. This saves a significant amount of time compared to having someone physically check each and every connector to see if they are all working,” Taylor explained. 

Changing Agricultural Practices for the Better

“Our experience with Bulgin’s connectors over the last couple of years is that they can withstand significantly more stress and much harsher environmental conditions than any competitor’s product we’ve seen,” said Magenheim.

“One of the best things about collaborating with Bulgin was the customer service. They helped us find the connectors that we desired and worked with us to make sure that they were cost-effective and suitable for our needs,” said Martin. “Working with Bulgin to develop our smart cables could really revolutionize the agricultural monitoring industry.”

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