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Emissions and Electric Vehicles Require Careful Connector Selection from the Right Partner
By: Patrick Mannion
Heavy-duty truck, forklift and emergency vehicle manufacturers are working to lower emissions and improve the efficiency and reliability of standard vehicles, while also incorporating electric or hybrid-electric technologies. Such technologies have many advantages, but they also introduce high-current performance requirements and add yet more signal- and power-integrity issues.
The potential efficiencies of electronics for tracking and real-time monitoring into heavy duty trucks and long-haul vehicles has been particularly aggressive. In agriculture, the geo-tracking and monitoring of harvesters requires more electronics, with expectations of lower maintenance costs. Meanwhile, forklifts are becoming more automated, adding increased safety and reliability concerns, even as they operate over extended periods in increasingly demanding environments.
For emergency vehicles, such as ambulances, patient safety is paramount, so connectors need to meet isolation requirements, while the vehicle itself must be capable of operating reliably at high speeds and in extreme conditions.
The good news for designers is that they don’t have to go it alone. In fact, they shouldn’t. A recent, widely reported study from Climate Central showed that transportation is now the biggest source of emissions in the U.S., putting a spotlight on the issue and creating an opportunity for designers to quickly differentiate their designs — with the right partner.
Move Fast, Design Well
It seems contradictory, but it’s possible to overcome the challenges of next-generation truck, emergency and electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid EV (HEV) design relatively quickly. However, it’s important to first understand the nature of those challenges.
Trucks, forklifts, emergency vehicles and other rugged transportation systems have traditionally been well-adapted to their environment. However, the amount of vehicular electronics continues to increase as sensing and control systems have been incorporated to enhance performance and lower emissions.
For example, throughout the industrial commercial transportation market, manufacturers are working on new innovative solutions to enable vehicles to sense idleness and make the decision to switch themselves off (i.e., power down). This can achieve goals related to improved energy efficiency while further reducing pollution, fuel waste and operating costs.
As compared to mechanical systems, printed circuit boards and connectors are more sensitive to vibration, shock, mechanical stresses, moisture, temperature extremes and electromagnetic interference (EMI). In addition, medical emergency vehicles need to ensure that the patients are completely isolated from any electronic or electrical systems, especially if they experience a short.
Developing the right connector and cabling for a specific application requires an understanding of metals and metal combinations for the pins, sealant strategies, plastics, usage models, environmental demands and regulatory requirements. As the number of digital and analogue signals increase, and EVs with high-current connections come on line, connectors are doing more than carrying a signal from point A to point B. They must now properly manage and mitigate the interplay between densely spaced, fast-switching, low-voltage signals and high-current, high-power lines, often within the same connector. This demands the deft use of isolation techniques and materials.
Another element that has taken the entire transportation industry aback is the rapidly accelerating time to market. Instead of taking 5 to 10 years for a new model to be designed and put into production, it’s now down to 2 to 5 years. At the same time, recalls become widely and almost instantly reported. For designers, this translates to less time to test connectors and harnesses, yet more pressure to get it right. The need to monitor constantly changing regulations as new technologies emerge, while also providing appropriate compliance documentation, only adds to the pressures, while distracting from meeting the design goals for the vehicle.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Especially Not Alone
Given the high stakes, designers would be wise to consider off-the-shelf connectors and harnesses from TE Connectivity to ensure a reliable and electrically robust connection. There are many to pick from off the shelf.
For example, the AMP MCP 9.5 two-position connectors for harsh environments are made from heavy-duty thermoplastic and can withstand severe vibration and mechanical shock. They are IP 67 and IP 69K rated (with backshell) to protect from dust, dirt and moisture, and come with several mounting options. They also have a slide lock for easy mating. The series operates over a wide temperature range of -30 degrees Celsius to 100 degrees Celsius and can handle up to 70 amps in 10 mm2 off a 28 V DC supply.
Also off the shelf is the Heavy Duty Sealed Connector Series (HDSCS) that features 2 to 18 cavity arrangements and can accommodate mixed wire sizes to bring multiple signal types together. They are also extremely rugged and have a secondary lock with poke-yoke feature and can be used for in-line or flange-mount applications. They accept contact sizes from 6.3/4.8K (40 amps) to 1.5K (20 amps).
In some cases, it’s required to have visual confirmation of power. The DEUTSCH DT Detector combines ruggedness with a distinct glow in a transparent housing, as well as a wedgelock with an integrated 12- or 24-volt LED option.
As the DEUTSCH DT connector shows, design requirements can take interesting twists. While a good connector provider can provide an off-the-shelf solution 95 percent of the time, picking the right connector not only requires knowledge of system requirements, but also relevant industry and regulatory changes.
As a result, it’s important to consult early with a connector provider to provide a high-level system view to ensure a well-integrated solution, while also providing insight into related trends.
Forging this relationship early can turn a vendor into a trusted partner that, in the short term, can provide a quick engineering consult to pick the right connector. Longer term, that partner can be relied upon to understand the nature of a design group’s operation to help with the small percentage of custom designs that cause the most angst, yet provide the most differentiation and design success if developed and implemented correctly.
Things to look for in such a partner include a strong engineering and support team. Also look for a history of solid solutions and innovation in a variety of applications, up-to-date regulatory knowledge and a willingness to visit on-site and discuss design particulars. It is also important that they have established connections up and down the transportation design and manufacturing food chain.
In addition, there should be a holistic approach to designing the electrical architecture. An experienced connector manufacturer can utilize and leverage years of experience to insure the customer considers all options and mitigates risks for problems in the field.
TE Connectivity, AMP MCP and DEUTSCH are trademarks. Other product and/or company names might be trademarks of their respective owners.