Editor’s note: Our guest blogger is Tom Anderson, connector product manager at AVX. He has been active in the connector industry for more than 30 years and, for the last five years, has focused on developing new connector technologies for the industrial and solid-state lighting markets.
Electronic equipment and power management is becoming increasingly critical as our power grid ages and renewable energy comes on line. In response, new technologies are being developed to protect equipment from power disturbances and fluctuations. The demand for smart devices capable of monitoring and managing these next-generation technologies is creating new applications for high-reliability wire-to-board connectors, specifically in the 12 AWG to 16 AWG range, in which size and current-handling capabilities are imperative. This blog will address some of the new connector technologies that have been specifically developed to address these applications.
As the demand for renewable energy and smart grid technology continues to expand, so does the need for smart power management controls that can accurately monitor and reliably protect the downstream components and systems. Reliant upon an array of cutting-edge electronics, smart power management devices can present engineers with several unique design challenges. One common such challenge is identifying innovative connector solutions capable of both handling several single 12–16 AWG wires and satisfying the high voltage and current carrying requirements of the power system.
Available in just about every configuration imaginable, traditional PCB terminal block-style connectors have long been the power utility connector of choice. However, although effective, the size of most terminal block connectors is a significant drawback. Typically, there just is not enough allocated space in power management devices for these connectors to fit, especially in designs that require a high number of wires.
Novel connector solutions ideally suited for use in space-constrained smart grid electronics are now available, but not in the traditional connector form that one would expect. Slowly introduced over the last four to five years, single, stand-alone contacts have been developed, tested, and deployed in a wide variety of industrial power applications, including smart grid electronics, and have proven to be as functional, robust, and reliable as standard connector solutions (like terminal blocks), but significantly smaller and more cost effective, providing electronics engineers with markedly more design flexibility.
Capitalizing on more than 50 years of insulation displacement connector (IDC) innovation, robust, plated through-hole contacts effectively address the size, reliability, and simplicity requirements for terminating larger gauge wires to printed circuit boards. Providing a gas-tight connection to the wire, these contacts maximize electrical integrity in even the harshest environmental conditions, including potting or over-molding to meet stringent IP ratings. For example, the IDC contacts pictured on the left side of the image below support a 15 A current rating at 600 V across a 12–18 AWG wire gauge spectrum for either solid or stranded conductors.
From a functional application perspective, these contacts provide a quick and reliable termination onto wires capable of meeting the voltage drop requirements over a 250-foot length, which are common in smart grid and renewable energy applications. Additionally, on the right side of the image below, the contacts have has been pushed to handle more than 20 A, which is typical in power-hungry applications, by simply doubling up the contacts in a front-to-back configuration, providing design engineers with a functional, reliable, and cost-effective off-the-shelf connector solution for high voltage and current electronics applications.
Single high spring-force compression contacts are another high reliability wire-to-board connector solution capable of satisfying the size constraints and current-handling capabilities of industrial power applications. Developed using conventional insulation stripping and poke-home wire insertion technology, these contacts are available in several sizes, the largest of which is a 4 mm contact capable of handling 20 AWG wires at 10 A up to 12 AWG wires at 20 A.
These surface mounted closed-box contacts guide the stripped wire directly into the middle of the two opposing high spring-force cantilever beams that grab and hold onto the wire, creating a robust connection capable of withstanding even extreme harsh environment conditions. Similar to the single IDC contacts, the simplicity and functionality of these uninsulated single poke-home contacts provide design engineers with small, robust, and cost-effective wire-to-board connector solutions ideal for use in a wide range of industrial power applications.
Currently offered by a single manufacturer, but in a wide variety of configurations — including IDC, compression, lateral/coplanar, pogo pin, and poke-home contacts for horizontal, vertical, and inverse through-board mating in an array of harsh industrial power applications — single contact technology continues to evolve at a rapid rate. Having received full UL certification earlier this year, these novel connector solutions are poised to help design engineers continue to overcome the unique challenges posed by cutting-edge technological developments.