Connectors in Unexpected Settings

Connector Are Showing Up In So Many Applications Outside of Factory Automation

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Jim MontagueBy Jim Montague, Executive Editor

Just when you think there's probably not much happening with basic networking hardware, somebody starts a veritable Renaissance in connectors and cordsets to serve new and growing groups of data-hungry applications.

"The biggest change for us in connectors is that they're showing up in so many applications outside of factory automation," says Loreen Katz, product marketing manager for Phoenix Contact's (www.phoenixcontact.com/usa) PlusCon industrial plug connectors. "These include renewable energy applications such as wind turbines, construction vehicles, firefighting and police vehicles, snowmaking machines and other outdoor settings, stages and stadiums, lighted signage, and some audio visual equipment. These applications previously used traditional hardwire, but in the past three or four years they're using more pre-assembled, molded cable assemblies and M5 to M23 connectors. In the past, only carmakers and a few others used custom connectors and cables, but now everyone is getting into the Ethernet and M12 act because they need to reduce the time and labor involved in putting systems together quickly without too much testing. However, to survive outside, many connectors are moving from nickel/brass to stainless steel internally, and then using UV- and ozone-resistant over-molding materials."

In the future, I think we're going to see more variety in connectors and cordsets, but this means it's going to be even more important for them all to provide reliable interconnections.

Steve Loyal, business development manager for device connectivity at Harting of North America (www.harting-usa.com), says the most significant trend his company sees is the shift to new machine and system designs that require eight-wire connectors and cables, principally Ethernet, because users need more data at faster rates. "In the past couple of years, all new designs seem to need eight-wire connectors, even from standard I/O devices, for example, to manage data from Cat. 6A processes that could need 1 Gbps communications. This is where data rates and requirements are headed, especially to serve high-speed video cameras and vision systems inspecting high-speed production lines. This is being paralleled by growth in eight-wire, over-molded with pairs in metal foil (PIMF), and braided-shield cordsets to limit interference, protect, and better manage those higher data rates."

To assist these applications, Harting recently launched its X Code connector interface, which was developed in cooperation with Molex and Phoenix Contact. X Code is an M12 connector with hardwired coding and shielded pairs to aid Cat. 6-level data rates. "We now have eight-wire connectors in M12 and RJ45, and both have standard form factors for easy installation, but deliver data at 10 Gbps," Loyal adds.

Likewise, the promise of more and better data via Profinet inspired German automakers to ask their hardware suppliers to jointly come up with a standard connector, so they designed a common push-pull jacket around an RJ45 core and power wire. "It's not often that competing manufacturers come together to demand a standard set of connectors, but this push-pull connector by the Automation Initiative of German Automobile Manufacturers (AIDA) is a lot faster and less costly than all the different kinds of threaded and other connectors they were using before," says Helge Hornis, product marketing manager for intelligent systems at Pepperl+Fuchs (www.pepperl-fuchs.us).

"In general, as automation proliferates into more new industries and applications, there are a lot more inputs, outputs and control signals, and most also need to take up less space and use less power," explains Cory Thiel, product manager for interconnect products at Wago (www.wago.us). "This has meant taking our core spring-pressure terminator technology into smaller packages that are better attuned to the needs of different industries, and it highlights our strength in preserving signal integrity."

As a result, Wago developed higher-density connectors such as its 713 Series double-row I/O interface connectors released about a year ago. To help industrial automation technology reduce costs in building automation systems, Wago recently launched Pico Max, European-style connectors based on Multi-Connection System (MCS) components.

"In the future, I think we're going to see more variety in connectors and cordsets, but this means it's going to be even more important for them all to provide reliable interconnections," Thiel says. "If that foundation is solid, then everyone can respond quickly to all the needs that users will have."

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