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Are we, as engineers, lured by the power of familiar solutions, and what dangers do they present? The connector marketplace is one of the most diverse and interesting in the entire electronics industry. The roles that they are required to play range from the smallest data connectors to the largest power supplies. They are frequently employed in some of the toughest conditions on Earth and despite this are expected to provide remarkable levels of reliability. As a result, the industry has responded with a quite bewildering array of choices.

D Type connector

Are you always settling for the familiar?

With such a huge range of potential uses, there are few companies that can claim to produce a solution for all industries. Many connector manufacturers have specialised and are well known for creating solutions for particular markets. As engineers, we often take advantage of this. When faced with the vastness of the connector marketplace, we will automatically ignore certain manufacturers from our potential list of choices because we assume they do not cater to our own industry. This is quite understandable. Specifying a connector can be a little daunting and reducing the size of the decision that we must make is only natural.

Self-Imposed Rules

After a time, these assumptions can become rules that we create for ourselves. However, when it comes to connectors, many of these rules can be broken. When creating a new device, the key task for any engineer should be to pick the product that will best solve their design challenge, and as with many things in life, there are often more ways than one to proceed. If we ignore the rules and investigate solutions that we would normally disregard, there are surprising things we can learn.

This is not limited to the world of connectors, or even the electronics industry. The largest tire manufacturer in the world is not Continental or Dunlop, it is the Danish toy company LEGO. And who would have imagined that global giant Volkswagen manufactures more sausages than cars every year? Although these examples are not of hugely practical value (unless you want a Currywurst sausage, in which case I can thoroughly recommend the Volkswagen product), the connector industry does offer some intriguing possibilities.

Looking Beyond the Perception

When we look beyond individual manufacturers, there are entire categories of products that were designed for one application but are suited for others. I have been a long advocate for the use of automotive connectors in industrial settings. Connectors intended for use in vehicles have much to offer the industrial engineer. They have been designed to survive the harsh conditions found in some of the most demanding environments, from extremes of temperature to contamination by mud and dirt.

Automotive-grade connectors are frequently designed in conjunction with the major auto manufacturers, and as they are used in mass-produced vehicles, they are made in huge quantities for the global market. This makes them cost-effective and easy to obtain, and it also means that the tooling and expertise needed to terminate them are both easy to find.

The automotive industry is not alone in its need for dedicated connectors. The military and aerospace sector has always had a lot to say about the connectors it uses. A significant number of connector manufacturers have made their name by specialising in creating military specification (or MIL-Spec) solutions. I have written at some length about using MIL-Spec types, with good reason. They are made to perform in tough conditions, conditions which are not limited to the battlefield.

Geological instrumentation, industrial automation, commercial vehicles – the list of potential applications for which a military connector might be suitable is virtually endless. Engineers the world over need a connector that must be mated and unmated frequently, that will be exposed to wind and weather or must be shielded against unwanted electromagnetic interference (EMI). If any of these conditions sound familiar, then one of the several MIL-Spec connector families is likely to have a solution for you.

There is Always Another Way

The key point that I hope you can draw from this article is that the connector industry is vast and varied. This means that there is almost always a different way to achieve the same goal. And while this variety can seem daunting at first, the role of suppliers like RS Components is to make these choices easier.

The conventional view can make us assume that a particular manufacturer or product type will not be suitable for our needs. But that same conventional view can stop us from seeing the tremendous innovation that occurs throughout the industry.

Do not let the familiar dictate how you choose connectors. Allow your engineering needs to be the guide that leads you to a solution. Be clear about the features you require, decide on the connector that suits your application, and ignore the dangers posed by the familiarity of familiar connector designs.

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.
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