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How Do I Choose Electrical Connectors?

Traditional connectors have served automotive connector systems through many design evolutions. Now, however, as new technologies make it possible to design safer, smarter, and greener vehicles, a new generation of connectors is needed to serve these systems.

Vehicle designers and manufacturers rely on many connector systems that have been on the market for decades. Even modern cars, light trucks, and motorcycles often include older connectors throughout the vehicle. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for the tried and true, especially when you consider that the tooling and assembly equipment costs associated with these systems were amortized several years ago, resulting in very favorable economics. However, times are changing.

Selecting connector systems for modern vehicles: four key features to consider

1. Size and power handling

As OEMs integrate higher-level features into vehicles, the number of interconnected devices increases exponentially, and so do the power requirements. However, design space remains limited and constant in some cases. Miniaturization has been a major industry trend for many years, with compact connectors being half of the solution; the other half is power handling. Therefore, when looking at interconnect systems, the combination of compact size and power handling capability should be found for the application.

2. Performance and specifications

Until recently, choosing a more compact connector usually meant making compromises or sacrificing functionality due to reduced size. But this is changing. Today, connector suppliers offer an expanding range of miniature connector systems that meet global OEM specifications for temperature, vibration, and sealing performance. These interconnects may also feature secondary locking, clip retainer functionality, latch protection, and other options.

In short, don't compromise on connector performance and specifications unless absolutely necessary. With major suppliers regularly introducing new lines of miniature, high-current carrying connectors, chances are you won't have to compromise at all.

3. Wide range of wire sizes

A connector system with a wide range of wires allows OEMs to specify it for multiple applications and systems throughout the vehicle. Even with different amperage requirements, the connector can remain the same; only the wire size needs to change. The ability to reuse a single connector system simplifies, streamlines, and expedites design, manufacturing, and inventory management, while also providing OEMs with the potential for volume discount pricing disruptions. The ability to support and maintain a range of wire sizes for the connector's specified protection (IP) standard is particularly valuable.

4. Flexibility

Flexibility in connector systems means greater versatility and integrability, as well as more opportunities to innovate and improve the electrical design and overall vehicle experience. Ultimately, the more flexibility a connector system (especially a miniature connector system) offers, the more opportunities the OEM has to save space, weight, time, and potentially money.

Other examples of flexibility include connector location assurance (CPA) features, polarization, and color-coding options, and options such as PCB connectors and cable relay connection options. Ask connector suppliers about potential plans to add more flexibility and versatility to their connector systems. For example, plans to expand pin counts and add higher temperature or shrouded versions can allow designers to improve systems as technology evolves.