There are countless different types of electrical connectors, each of which has their own unique features to accommodate a wide range of applications. Connectors find use in many sectors, from home and work to industrial automation, medical technology, military, and aerospace industries. To better understand the versatility and complexity of these electromechanical devices, this blog will outline how they are manufactured.
Electrical connectors are designed to create semi-permanent conductive paths for electrical current to flow through to power a device or transmit a signal. They usually have male ends called pins or plugs and female ends called sockets or receptacles that mate to form a connection. In terms of advantages, electrical connectors provide flexibility with your equipment when compared to permanently hard wiring and are critical in providing reliable electrical contact.
Like most electromechanicals, they are composed of at least two key components: the housing and the terminals/contacts. The housing serves as the structure or shell that secures the connection and protects the internal components from external stressors. Generally, the housing is designed according to application, but a majority are made from molded plastic or metal. Meanwhile, the terminals are the connector’s contacts which are usually made of conductive metals like copper. Moreover, they are usually plated with metals such as gold or tin for longer-lasting connections.
The manufacturing method used to produce electrical connectors is determined by the connector series and the specific testing requirements each connector has. In fact, multiple inspections are carried out through each assembly stage to ensure the components are free of defects. As such, the manufacturing process is broken down into their individual components, including the housing, inserts, contacts, and assembly.
Based on the connector’s material, the connector is formed using different methods. For plastic connectors, the connector is made using an injection mold where plastic pellets are melted at high temperatures and morphed into a particular shape before solidifying. For metal connectors, the connector will be die-casted or machined out a base material like aluminum. If either process creates a bumpy surface on the connector, it can be sent to a plater.
Plating consists of coating the connector housing with a metal coating in order to enhance electrical conductivity, protect from rusting, and guard against abrasion. More than that, the housing is submerged into an electrical pool filled with the desired metal plating material during the plating process. The three most common plating materials are olive drab cadmium, electroless nickel, and black zinc nickel. After plating, X-ray fluorescence detects any potential issues like incomplete plating or uneven thickness. Additionally, visual testing reveals cracks, pits, blisters, and more.
The non-conductive insert at the center of the connector separates the pins from the connector housing. Within metal connectors, a rubber/silicone insert is used to evenly separate the conductive contacts from electrical issues such as creepage and clearance concerns. Within plastic connectors, the connector housing is often designed to be its own insert, limiting the amount of injection molding processes it is subjected to. It is important to note that visual inspections must be carried out to detect internal stress, non-uniform thickness, deformation, and clogged sockets.
Connector contacts, on the other hand, can only be made of a conductive metal. Furthermore, there are two primary ways of producing contacts, that of which consists of machining the pins via a CNC machine or a stamping process. Stamping is a form of sheet fabrication where thin metal strips and a high speed stamping press or machine are used. This process produces accurate shapes with predictable mechanical properties. Once stamping is complete, sensors and camera vision systems ensure that the dimensional criteria is met for that specific connector.
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