Electronic connectors are used in many applications, including PCB connectors for printed circuit boards, DIN connectors for loudspeakers, and even in equipment that is manufactured to military specifications.
Their applications are virtually limitless because electronic connectors can be any connector used in the electronics industry. As such, manufacturers produce them to be used with cell phones, tablets, PCs, laptops, telecommunications equipment, electronic boards, audiovisual equipment, televisions, electric guitars, and more.
In addition to the electronics industry, electronic connectors are important in the medical industry, automotive industry, consumer industry, commercial industry, and industrial manufacturing.
How They Work
To work, electronic connectors may transfer either or both alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). AC power acts in such a way that the charge sometimes reverses direction. DC power, on the other hand, moves constantly in one direction. The connector does not transmit its own charge, but it allows DC and AC charges to pass through two points with only a minimal loss of charge or distortion.
When designing an electronic connector, manufacturers must think about a number of different factors. First, they must consider the environment that the electronic connector must work in and they have to think about things like:
• to what the electronic connector must connect
• the maximum and minimum surrounding temperatures
• what level of mechanical stress can they expect the connector to experience
• whether or not there are any existing connectors with which the new connectors must be compatible
• whether or not the user will be frequently plugging and unplugging the connector, etc.
Based on these considerations, among others, electronic connector manufacturers will decide on technical details like pitch (distance between the respective centers of separate connector contact pieces, both female and male), durability/mating cycles (the length of time you can expect your connector to last if you use it normally), versatility, voltage type, current type, etc. Manufacturers must also decide on electronic connector sizes and materials.
To increase the versatility of an electronic connector, manufacturers can add custom features such as extra contacts, adaptability features, seals between the enclosure and insert (to protect against oil, water, and other moisture), corrosion-blocking anodized shells, and/or strain relief features. (Strain relief features keep harmful mechanical forces from reaching the electronic connector.) To customize an electronic connector, manufacturers can also change the number and types of pins it has. Learn more about the possibilities of custom electronic connector design by talking with your potential suppliers.
There are many different kinds of electronic connectors. However, in general, they feature a few key parts. These include contacts or terminals, a housing, locking features, and keying features.
Contacts or terminals are the parts of the connector that create the actual connection. Male connector contacts are also often called “pinouts” because they are generally extended metal pieces, like pins or prongs.
The contact system is one of the most important parts of an electronic connector because it establishes the density requirements, contact forces, and other mechanical features of the connector.
Manufacturers make contacts and terminals almost exclusively from highly conductive non-corrosive metals, such as phosphor-bronze, beryllium copper, modified copper, or brass.
Housings encase the contacts and protect them from exposure to or collision with outside elements or people. Typically, manufacturers make housings from plastic, though they do sometimes make them from dielectric or insulating materials instead.
Locking features are elements designed to lock in a mating connection so that it properly locks in place. Without locking features, the connection could disconnect before you want it to.
Keying features, also known as polarizing features, make sure that you can only mate a connection if both connections are properly aligned and oriented. Without this feature, users could incorrectly plug in a connector and break it.
The three main types of electronic connectors are as follows: temporary, assembly required, and permanent.
A temporary electronic connector is typically used in portable equipment where the connector’s lifespan will probably be short.
Assembly required electronic connectors are best in applications where more longevity and even the option of removal or replacement down the road is needed.
Permanent connectors are used in applications where they will be expected to perform in one place over the long term.
A further categorization of electrical connectors differentiates them as male and female.
A male connector is used to plug into electrical circuits. Male connectors use metal extensions, like power plug prongs, to connect to the female connector.
A female electronic connector acts as a socket connector. It features a receptacle to receive electrical circuits by connecting to male connectors. One of the most common examples of a female connector socket is the wall plug.
Manufacturers produce many different types of electronic connectors for specific purposes, but a few types are very common in industrial applications. Pin connectors, cable connectors, wire connectors, fiber optic connectors, and amp connectors are among the most common connector types.
Pin connectors are connectors that use pins (sharp pointed and blunt headed pieces of metal wire) to connect electrical circuits. Usually male configured, they generally plug into or otherwise connect to female-configured electrical circuits like sockets. Together, pin and plug connector assemblies can be called socket connectors, pin and socket connectors, or plug and socket connectors.
Cable connectors are a type of electronic connector that manufacturers design specifically to connect cable cords and electronic components. Once joined they can conduct electricity or send communication. Cable connectors are usually composed of a set of flexible wires or stranded wires housed inside a plastic coating. They most often work using a plug or a screw.
Wire connectors are connectors in the very broad category of connectors made out of wire or with wire components.
Fiber optic connectors are connectors that manufacturers create using very fine glass fibers. Fiber optic connectors are perfect for specialized communications setups.
Amp connectors, also known as Amphenol connectors, are connectors that vary in the amount of electric current, or amperage, that they can transfer. They are named after the first company to manufacture them, the Amphenol Corporation. Amp connectors may transmit either AC or DC power. Some of their most common applications include battery, PV array, sub-array, PV, and solar power array connecting.
Some less common types of connectors are DIN connectors, RF connectors, coaxial, and PCB connectors.
DIN connectors are manufactured to standards set by the Deutsches Institut fur Normung (DIN), the German national standard organization.
A coaxial connector has many sub-types, but essentially it is a cable that can maintain a connection.
PCB connectors are connectors designed specifically to work with printed circuit boards. They accommodate the many interconnected and small parts of printed circuit boards.
RF connectors, another type of coaxial connector, work with radio frequencies in a multi-megahertz range.
Other miscellaneous electronic connector types include waterproof connectors and power connectors.
Waterproof connectors work just as they sound; they resist water. Manufacturers can make all different kinds of waterproof connectors, but they work especially well for equipment that could be exposed to the rain, like amplifiers and other audiovisual equipment, as well as tools like wire connectors and plugs for cars, trucks, motorcycles, and marine vehicles.
Power connectors transport large amounts of power from a power source to whatever equipment or electronic devices that requires that power.
The advantages of electrical connectors include high insulation value, high durability, rugged construction, and low contact resistance.
You can use a wide range of accessories with your electronic connectors. Examples of just a few such accessories include bushings, contacts, terminals, dust caps, adaptors, wire terminal kits, and repair kits. To find out which accessories might best benefit your application, talk to your supplier.
If you want your electronic connectors to last, you must be very careful with them. This is because they are vulnerable to a number of threats. Temporary electronic connectors are especially vulnerable to attacks by mechanical stress. This is because users so often connect and disconnect them. Over time, the subtle vibration and abrasion that connectors experience can wear them out. In general, electronic connectors are vulnerable to attacks from chemicals, because of their metal components. Metal components like metal contacts, if not properly cared for, can develop rust or become dirty.
The best way to protect your electronic connectors from developing problems like those mentioned above is by regularly checking them for visible damage, regularly checking your equipment for issues that could endanger your electronic connectors (e.g. chemical leaks), and not subjecting your electronic connectors to undue stress or harsh environments. Also, if and when you must clean your connectors, make sure you are using an approved cleaner.
Things to Consider
If you are interested in purchasing one or more electronic connectors, you need to link up with a reliable and well-reviewed electronic connector manufacturer. Since electronic connectors are such common and varied products, a quick Google search will turn up an overwhelming number of hits. While options are great, too many options can just make things confusing. To help you, we have put together a list of some of the best electronic connectors in the United States and Canada. You will find that list, which is complete with profiles and links, towards the middle of this page.
Before you look at our list of electronic connector suppliers, we recommend you take some time to write down your application specifications and requirements. This will help you more quickly decide whether or not a company has potential for you. Remember to write down specifics including your order quantity, your standard requirements, your budget, your delivery preferences, and your delivery deadline.
Once you have written down all of your specifications, check out our list of suppliers. Assess which ones might be a good fit for you, based on your needs. We recommend you narrow it down to three or four top picks. Then, reach out to each company to discuss your application at length. Take note of not only their prices and deals, but also their customer service. It is important to work with a company that is invested in your success. Finally, compare and contrast each conversation, determine which electronic connector company is right for you, and get started. Good luck!