Avionics connector users in commercial and defense applications demanding more capability, smaller size, more EMI protection

By John Keller

Here's the good news for commercial and military avionics connector suppliers: there's a growing need for your products. Here's the bad news: systems integrators want more capability, higher bandwidth, increased ruggedness, more resistance to lightning and electro-magnetic pulse, less risk from materials, yet want connectors that are smaller and lighter than ever before.

That's a tall order, but suppliers of electronic and electro-optical connectors for military avionics and commercial avionics applications are ready to step into the breech.

"Business is skyrocketing overt the last couple months," says Bill Neukomm, vice president of sales at Harwin in Salem, N.H. Part of that is from defense but also a result of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner's first flight getting off the ground, he adds. Boeing has large amount of backlog on the 787 and "we are in many of the avionics systems" and other parts of those aircraft, Neukomm continues.

Designers in both markets however are demanding more and more reliability and flexibility in addition to the smaller size, Neukomm says. This is especially true with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the largest growth area in the military market, he adds.

"For a long time, in a lot of mil-spec connectors, size was not a concern," explains one official of rugged connector supplier Glenair Inc. in Glendale, Calif., who wishes not to be named. "Now the focus has shifted from reducing the effects of shock and vibration, to how do I make it smaller and lighter so I can put more payload on platforms like unmanned aerial vehicles. It's got to act like a mil-spec connector, but my customers need something smaller."

Versatility is also an issue with aerospace system designers, says David Humphreys, product manager for Datamate at Harwin. Some systems such as one Harwin did for NASA called Robonaut, required connectors that could combine signal and power capability in the same package – to manage high currents between 10 and 15 amperes, he continues.

NASA went with Robonaut's Datamate, which "combine signal contacts as high as 3A and power contacts as high as 20A in one shell, as well as coax connectors capable of 50 ohm (6GHz) performance," Humphreys continues.

Rugged requirements

Connectors have to be rugged like never before. "We are flying higher and hotter," says Robert Stanton, director of technology at Omnetics Connector Corp., in Minneapolis. "Our requirements used to be -55 to plus 125 degrees Celsius, but today, based on what our customers are telling us, we are all offering products up to 200 C, which used to be only for petroleum."

Temperature extremes are not the only reason that systems designers are ratcheting-up their requirements for ruggedness in connectors. The digital battlefield and network-centric warfare require infantry soldiers to carry a growing amount of electronic equipment, from sensors to wearable computers, to displays, and that means small, lightweight connectors.

More gadgets

"These guys want to carry more gadgets, and connect them, all on their bodies -- GPS, night vision goggles, friend or foe equipment -- and they want to hook them all together," Stanton explains.

Then what happens at the end of the mission? The exhausted soldier staggers into camp and just wants to disconnect from his equipment as quickly as possible so he can get cleaned up, get a meal, and hit the rack. "They tug on the connector when they throw the equipment off," Stanton explains. "Our pullout spec is going to have to evolve to be tougher and tougher.

"It's the housewife vacuum cleaner test," Stanton continues. "My wife insists that cord is not for electricity, but for dragging the vacuum cleaner around. It's the same for our soldiers. The pullout test will emerge more and more significantly than it is today."

Val McOmber, product manager for connector supplier LEMO USA Inc. in Rohnert Park, Calif., echoes concerns for ruggedness. "The request that comes most often is I need to maintain gasketing for water tightness and harsh chemicals, but keep the panel size down," McOmber says. "The trend in miniaturization is continuing, and the connector can be the largest element. If I can shrink the connectors, I can shrink the box size."

One of the primary ways that connector designers reduce weight is to switch from metals to ceramics. The problem with that, however, is the potential for toxic fumes to form in the presence of fire or other extreme environmental conditions. "If it's not a good material, and we have an alternative, why not get rid of the hazardous material?" says LEMO's McOmber. "This is not yet a requirement, but the ball is definitely rolling in that direction."

Switching from metal in connector designs also has consequences for performance in harsh environments. "Moving away from an aluminum skin structure to a composite can allow more energy from lighting and EMP to get into the wiring harnesses," McOmber points out. "We're hearing rumblings for more lightning protection in our connectors."

One way to eliminate problems from electromagnetic interference, lighting, and EMP is to move to fiber optics, says the Glenair representative. "It has been a slow trend, but it's a real trend," he says. We are increasingly using more fiber optic cabling or hybrid fiber and electric cabling, for high speed, high bandwidth, EMP, and EMI issues."

Company information

Company information

AbelConn LLC

New Hope, Minn.
763-533-3533
www.abelconn.com\

Accel Connectors Inc.
Temecula, Calif.
951-296-9435
www.accelconnectors.com

Advanced Interconnections Corp.
West Warwick, R.I.
401-823-5200
www.advanced.com

AirBorn
Addison, Texas
972-931-3200
www.airborn.com

American Micro Products Inc.
Batavia, Ohio
800-479-2193
www.american-micro.com

Amphenol PCD
Peabody, Mass.
978-532-8800
www.amphenolpcd.com

Amphenol TCS
Nashua, N.H.
603-879-3000
www.amphenol-tcs.com

Aries Electronics
Frenchtown, N.J.
908-996-6841
www.arieselec.com

AVX Corp.
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
843-448-9411
www.avx.com

BTC Electronic Components Inc.
Wake Forest, N.C .
919-556-8900
www.btcelectronics.com

C&K Components
Newton, MA 02458
617-969-3700
www.ck-components.com

Carlisle Interconnect Technologies
St. Augustine, Fla.
904-829-5600
www.carlisleit.com

Cinch Connectors
Lombard, Ill.
630-705-6000
www.cinch.com

Concord Electronics Corp.
New York, N.Y.
212-777-6571
www.concord-elex.com

Conec Corp.
Garner, N.C.
919-460-8800
www.conec.com

Connector Technology Inc.
Somerset, N.J.
732-745-2880
www.connectech.com

DA-Green Electronics LTD.
South River, N.J.
732-254-2735
www.dgecorp.com

Delphi Connection Systems
Irvine, Calif.
949-458-3100
http://connectors.delphi.com

Delta Electronics Manufacturing Corp.
Beverly, Mass.
978-927-1060
www.deltarf.com

Detoronics Corp.
South El Monte, Calif..
626-579-7130
www.detoronics.com

Deutsch ECD Defense/Aerospace Operations
Hemet, Calif.
909-765-2200
www.deutschdao.com

Diamond SA
Losone, Switzerland
+41 (91) 785 45 45
www.diamond-fo.com

Endicott Interconnect Technologies Inc.
Endicott, N.Y.
866-820-4820
www.eitny.com

Ericsson Inc.
Plano, Texas
972-583-2372
www.ericsson.com

FCI
Versailles, France
+33 (0)1 39 49 21 83
www.fciconnect.com

Fischer Connectors Inc.
Alpharetta, Ga.
678-393-5400
www.fischerconnectors.com

Glenair Inc.
Glendale, Calif.
818-247-6000
www.glenair.com

Greene, Tweed & Co.
Kulpsville, Pa.
215-256-9521
www.gtweed.com

Harwin Inc.
Salem, N.H.
603-893-5376
www.harwin.com

Huber Suhner
Herisau, Switzerland
41-71-353-4111
www.hubersuhner.com

Hypertronics Corp.
Hudson, Mass.
978-568-0451
www.hypertronics.com

IEH Corp.
Brooklyn, N.Y.
718-492-4448
www.iehcorp.com

Interconnect Devices Inc. (IDI)
Kansas City, Kan.
913-342-5544
www.idinet.com

ITT Interconnect Solutions
Santa Ana, Calif.
714-557-4700
www.ittcannon.com

kSARIA Corp.
Lawrence, Mass.
978-933-0000
www.ksaria.com

J.S.T. Corp.
Waukegan, Ill.
847-473-1957
www.jst.com

L-com Inc.
North Andover, Mass.
978-682-6936
www.l-com.com

Lapp USA
Florham Park, N.J.
973-660-9700
www.lappusa.com

LEMO USA Inc.
Rohnert Park, Calif.
707-578-8811
www.lemousa.com

Martec Limited
Swalecliffe, England
+44 (0)1227 793 733
www.martec.ltd.uk

MegaPhase
Stroudsburg, Pa.
570-424-8400
www.megaphase.com

Meritec
Painesville, Ohio
440-354-3148
www.meritec.com

Micro-Coax Inc.
Pottstown, Pa.
610-495-0110
www.micro-coax.com

Miles Tek Corp.
Denton, Texas
940-484-9400
www.milestek1553.com

Molex Inc.
Lisle, Ill.
630-969-4550
www.molex.com

Multi-Contact USA
Santa Rosa, Calif.
707-575-7575
www.multi-contact-usa.com

Nicomatic North America
Warminster, Pa.
215-444-9580
www.nicomatic.com

OFS
Avon, Conn.
860-678-0371
www.specialtyphotonics.com

Omnetics Connector Corp.
Minneapolis, Minn.
763-572-0656
www.omnetics.com

Pacific Aerospace & Electronics
Wenatchee, Wash.
509-667-9600
www.pacaero.com

Pasternack Enterprises Inc.
Irvine, Calif.
949-261-1920
www.pasternack.com

Phoenix Contact USA
Middletown, Pa.
717-944-1300
www.phoenixcontact.com

Positronic Industries Inc.
Springfield, Mo.
417-866-2322
www.connectpositronic.com

Radiall
Chandler, Ariz.
480-682-9400
www.radiall.com

Robert Technologies Inc.
Manalapan, N.J.
732-254-6389
www.roberttechinc.com

Sabritec
Irvine, Calif.
949-250-1244
www.sabritec.com

Schaltbau GmbH
Munich, Germany
+49 (0)89/93005-0
www.schaltbau-gmbh.com

ealcon LLCS
Centennial, Colo.
303-699-1135
www.sealconusa.com

Souriau
York, Pa.
717-767-6705
www.souriau.com

Spectrum Control Inc.
Fairview, Pa.
814-474-1571
www.spectrumcontrol.com

Tempo-Textron
Vista, Calif.
760-598-8900
www.tempo-textron.com

Times Microwave Systems
Wallingford, Conn.
203-949-8400
www.timesmicrowave.com

Trompeter/Semflex
Mesa, Ariz.
480-985-9000
www.trompeter.com

Tyco Electronics Aerospace & Defense
Middletown, Pa.
717-564-0100
www.tycoelectronics.com

W.L. Gore & Associates
Elkton, MD
410-392-4441
www.gore.com

Winchester Electronics Corp.
Wallingford, CT
203-741-5491
www.winchesterelectronics.com


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