Unmanned vehicles and network-centric warfare put the squeeze on rugged connectors

Jan. 6, 2009
Environmental demands for aerospace and military electrical and electro-optic connectors are becoming ever-more pressing as defense systems enter the network-centric age, and as defense planers rely ever more heavily on unmanned vehicles.

By John Keller

Environmental demands for aerospace and military electrical and electro-optic connectors are becoming ever-more pressing as defense systems enter the network-centric age, and as defense planers rely ever more heavily on unmanned vehicles.

The emerging era of network-centric warfare -- in which every soldier, weapon, and vehicle becomes a node on a massive tactical information network -- means that everything on the battlefield eventually will require connectors, from the soldier in the foxhole to tactical aircraft and orbiting satellites.

All this means that military systems designers are demanding electrical and electro-optical connectors that are lighter, smaller, tougher, and more affordable than ever before.

"One big trend we see in ground forces is they are all linked via communications," explains John Binder, industry manager for the military and aerospace business at rugged connector supplier Hypertronics Corp. in Hudson, Mass. "This is just another area where we need connectors that cannot fail -- in sand, dust, water, changes in thermal conditions, and the constant vibration of somebody walking, or in a tank that is bounding around for days."

Hypertronics offers the Hypertac system, which uses pin sockets with wire baskets that hug the contact pin as the pin is inserted in the socket. "It is always in continuous connection with all these wires to the pin," Binder explains. The wire basket inside the connector is ruggedized in a barrel construction to withstand extremes in shock and vibration.

The Hypertronics Hypertac connector system is used in the U.S. Army Non Line Of Sight (NLOS) cannon system, which must withstand the explosive force of the cannon firing as often as 10 times per minute.

Ruggedizing connectors also is a primary goal of Winchester Electronics Corp. in Wallingford, Conn. "We are developing a product that is anti-rotational after it is torqued, so it stays in place," says John P. Murphy, strategic customer manager at Winchester Electronics.

Aircraft systems designers are particularly sensitive to connectors that use nuts and screws that can come loose after exposure to long-term shock and vibration -- even to the extent of using nuts with holes in them that are used to wire the nut to the aircraft bulkhead.

The problem with nuts and screws that come loose is known as foreign object debris (FOD) damage, which can happen when small bits of debris like nuts and screws gets sucked into jet engines while on the tarmac. This can cause costly damage and take aircraft out of service.

Murphy says the major trends he sees in the rugged connector business are light weight, composite construction, ruggedization, and nuts and screws that cannot inadvertently come loose.

Unmanned vehicles -- in the air, on land, and at sea -- also are placing big demands on connector designers. "The number-one law of a connector is it must mate; things fail because they loose their connectivity," says Hypertronics's Binder.

Unmanned vehicles are different from manned vehicles in that they often can withstand much more severe levels of shock, vibration, and G forces. "In unmanned vehicles you don't care about shock and vibration because there's no person in there to take the impact," he says. "If it's unmanned, you can go substantially higher than 10 Gs -- providing your vehicle can take it."

Unfortunately, many connectors available today cannot operate reliably through forces as strong as 10 Gs. "If your connector fails, you will lose signal, or you will lose power, and your system will fail," Binder says.

Rugged electronic and optical connector company listing

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

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

Amphenol Alden Products Co., Brockton, Mass., 508-427-7000, www.aldenproducts.com,

Amphenol, Wallingford, Conn., 877-267-4366, www.amphenol.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, Mass., 02458, 617-969-3700, www.ck-components.com

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

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

Hyperlink Technologies Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., 561-995-2256, www.hyperlinktech.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

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., 630-969-455, 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

OFSAvon, 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.phoenixcon.com

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

Sealcon LLC, 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

SV Microwave Inc., West Palm Beach, Fla., 561-840-1800, www.svmicrowave.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/electronics

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

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