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Slimline Connectors for Home Automation Controls

Living in a connected home is all about control. The user can control almost all aspects of the building, sometimes centrally, sometimes remotely. However, one thing that seems to be common to all is the requirement for slim, unobtrusive control systems.

Fortunately, the current generation of touchscreen displays is perfect for this role. Most of us use these incredible devices everyday on our smartphones, where the slim design is apparent. The current generation of smartphone is around 7mm thick, and this includes the case, the electronics and the display. This should give you an idea of how far the technology has advanced. Many connected devices use similar displays, from refrigerators to alarm systems. However, these displays still need to be connected to the rest of the device.

Connectors have often been the limiting factor in mechanical design. If we look back 20 years, the preferred option for connecting the type of display or control devices we need for the connected home (if such a thing existed back then) would have been a ribbon cable.

However, you will see from the images that these are not exactly slimline, and if connectors had not kept pace with other technology then we would be looking at much more bulky control devices.

Happily, the connector industry has a solution in the shape of the FPC (Flexible Printed Circuit) or FFC (Flat Flexible Circuit) connector. This connector takes advantage of the ability to print circuit tracks like those on a PCB (printed circuit board) onto a flexible substrate. This makes the circuit thin and therefore the connector too, making it perfect for the modern trend in thin, low-profile devices.

One of the connector manufacturers exploiting this technology is Japanese company Hirose. Hirose has introduced the FH34S, designed to provide a more secure connection of the FFC/FPC to the printed circuit board. The FH34S features a back-flip actuator, located at the back of the housing instead of the front. This allows the connector to be supplied in the open position, simplifying assembly and saving time. The back-flip actuator is designed to absorb contact force when mating, ensuring a good mechanical connection and providing reliability for a long service life. The cable entry is tapered to make insertion easier, and tactile feedback gives the user confidence that the connector is mated correctly.

The connector is low-profile with a height above the board of only 1.0mm, and also features a short mounting depth of 3.2mm. The underside of the connector isolated, which allows the board designer to run conductive traces underneath to save even more space.

The FH34S Series is available now from RS Components.

Connector Geek is Dave in real life. After three decades in the industry, Dave still likes talking about connectors almost as much as being a Dad to his two kids. He still loves Lego too. And guitars.