The Swiss Army Knife of Connectors?
The connector market boasts one of the broadest ranges of products in electronics today. From connectors that are so small that you can hardly see them (let alone solder them) to power devices that need two people to plug them in correctly, there are connectors that are suitable for a huge range of applications. This range of choice can be overwhelming, especially for an engineer who is trying to balance the need for compact size and good current rating.
It's all about the contacts
The task of the connector design engineer is even harder. Traditional thinking tells us that high power can only be delivered by large size, whereas the demand in the electronics industry has been for ever-smaller devices. When I joined the connector industry, I was taught that power connectors used solid machined contacts to deliver higher current capacity. Whilst this is still true for really high powered applications - electric vehicle connectors with current ratings of hundreds of amps will still use machined contacts - modern board-mounting connector design depends on small, stamped contacts.
Fig 1: Stamped contacts showing stages of manufacturing
Stamped contacts are made from metal that is cut, shaped and plated in a continuous strip. This is a process that is well suited for mass production and is therefore very cost-effective. Despite these advantages, stamped contacts are hollow and therefore cannot carry as much current when compared to their machined equivalents.
The latest improvements
It is a long time since I joined the industry, and a lot of things have changed. The first big improvement is in the quality of stamped contact design. Stamped contacts were once the "cheap and cheerful" choice but now they are a real option for engineers. Manufacturers like Molex and Samtec have developed stamped contacts to introduce features such as multiple points of contact and advanced plating technologies. Stamped contacts are now more capable than ever, and are also becoming smaller.
The new Micro Mate™ connectors range of connectors from manufacturer Samtec is an interesting example. It features stamped contacts with a compact pitch of 1.00mm, but each contact is capable of up to 3.3 Amps, making it ideal for the latest low-power electronic devices. The range is designed to include a wide array of mounting options, making it easy to use a single system to satisfy diverse interconnect requirements. And just to complete the picture, the Micro Mate™ offers features that make it a rugged solution, including materials for high-temperature applications and double latching for positive connections.
Fig 2: Micro Mate™ 1.00mm Pitch Connectors
Take a look at Samtec's blog for a better understanding of how the Micro Mate™ could be described as the Swiss Army knife of the connector world!