Industry Insights

Molex examines convergence of ruggedisation and miniaturisation

Molex has published a report detailing the critical role of ruggedised, miniaturised interconnect solutions in driving the evolution of electronic devices across various industries.

Titled ‘Breaking Boundaries: Uniting Ruggedisation and Miniaturisation in Connector Design’, the report delves into the current trends, necessary trade-offs, and technologies that are paving the way for the future of electronics.

“Increasing demand for electronics in new vehicle platforms has intensified the need for smaller and rugged interconnects designed to withstand the harshest environments,” said Carrieanne Piccard, VP and GM, Transportation Innovative Solutions, Molex. “As a result, the ruggedisation of miniaturised connectors has emerged as an overarching design principle, requiring a holistic approach across the entire lifecycle of components to achieve optimal product reliability, performance and longevity.”

Essential connectivity advances

According to the report by Molex, miniature connectors, defined as those with a pitch of 2.54mm or less, and ruggedisation – designed to endure extreme environmental and mechanical stresses – are pivotal in fostering significant advancements within the automotive sector, notably in electric vehicles (EVs) and zonal architectures. This trend is now spreading to sectors like consumer electronics (including fitness trackers and smart home devices), industrial automation (such as robots and sensors), and medical devices (like endoscopes and wearable health monitors).

The push for compact, robust connectors is also making headway in applications like smart agriculture, where space-saving connectors that withstand wet and harsh conditions are crucial. These connectors are equally vital in agricultural drones, where they must resist extreme temperatures, vibrations, and exposure to moisture and chemicals.

Expanding design frontiers

The report from Molex highlights the best practices for overcoming significant design and manufacturing hurdles to create smaller, lighter, and more dependable connectors. Materials such as aluminium alloys, specialised steels, and high-performance polymers are essential for their durability and lightweight properties. However, shaping these materials into complex connector designs typically requires advanced techniques like micro-moulding, precision machining, laser welding, or selective plating.

Furthermore, while dense pitch configurations allow for higher contact density in smaller device footprints, they pose challenges such as increased crosstalk and heat dissipation issues. To address these, engineers employ advanced signal routing, shielding techniques, and thermal management strategies, including heat sinks and thermal vias. Molex’s DuraClik Connectors, for example, use high-temperature PBT housings and secure terminal retention to endure the demanding conditions of automotive applications.

Innovations in miniaturised connectivity

The report also introduces Multi-Functional Terminals (MFTs), which mark a significant advancement in miniaturised connector technology by combining power, signal transmission, and mechanical features like locking mechanisms into one compact connector. It further examines environmental challenges that could affect component reliability and provides strategies to ensure optimal performance in harsh conditions. Features like strain relief and innovative contact design play critical roles in enhancing connector durability against vibration, shock, and frequent mating cycles.

At Molex’s Global Reliability Lab, engineers simulate real-world conditions such as vibration, temperature fluctuations, and exposure to harsh chemicals to validate the durability of solutions like the Molex Micro-Lock Plus Connectors. These connectors are designed with a positive locking mechanism and metal solder tabs to enhance resistance to mechanical stress and vibrations.

Moreover, to protect against moisture and dust, which can cause corrosion and shorts, ingress protection is crucial. Molex’s Squba Connectors, with their IP68-rated seals, demonstrate resistance to water submersion up to nearly five feet for 30 minutes, epitomising the blend of compact design and robust functionality.