Choosing the right interconnect solution for your application

by Paul Carter
Courtesy of Cabling Business Magazine

Today’s world population, although greater than ever, is also more connected than ever. We are linked by satellite, Internet, fiber and copper cables. We transmit data and power in fractions of seconds, often not giving a moment’s thought about the sophisticated technologies that allow these transmissions to take place. Many of the devices that keep us connected rely on advanced interconnectivity solutions – connections designed to ensure that cable products deliver the most reliable and consistent data and power transfer. The industries that rely on advanced interconnect solutions are almost endless in their variety and number. With so many potential applications and different types of solutions available, how do you sort out the parameters to consider when selecting an interconnectivity product provider?

In the current marketplace, technology can be the differentiator in supplier selection. If your requirements fall into the commodity category, then price and off-the-shelf availability are typically the prime factors in supplier selection. If your needs are simple, there are thousands of potential suppliers who can meet those needs. If your application has specific requirements related to data rates, custom cable design, high-flex assembly designs and overmolding, the field of potential suppliers narrows significantly.

Finding the right supplier

Entering the world of custom interconnect solutions requires a detailed analysis to find the right supplier capable of cost effectively filling your requirements. There are many companies that produce both commodity and custom cable, but do not possess the capability to provide cable assemblies. Other companies purchase the cable from these suppliers, providing the assembly services, which sometimes includes overmolding. These companies fill the niche of low-technology interconnect solutions, where applications are typically not performance driven.

Custom high-performance applications require the expertise of a fully integrated engineering driven company, possessing the ability to produce both cable and cable assemblies, along with the technical expertise to design and produce custom overmolds. Suppliers in this market place may differentiate into high-speed interfaces such as high-speed coax, SCSI (small computer system interface), or Infiniband technologies typically used for enterprise computer applications. Of primary concern, for these applications is the need to maintain as low a dielectric constant as possible, while providing improved signal performance at high frequencies with performance measured according to differential impedance and skew.

Packaging

As electronics packaging has become lighter and more portable, a distinct need has developed for highly flexible cable, coiled cords and custom overmolds. Specific design requirements must be achieved to yield a highly flexible, yet durable, product. Selection of conductor material, strand count, primary jacket compound, shielding and overall jacket each play a critical role in product performance. These materials must all work as a complete system, requiring that product design consider lay length and direction, jacket wall thickness and a number of other considerations, in order to optimize performance. It is not just the material selection, but the parameters used in manufacturing that impacts results. The cable must be married to a connector system, with subsequent strength added, through the development of an appropriate overmold utilizing specific materials to enhance performance. To achieve these results requires a vertically integrated interconnect supplier having cable, cable assembly and overmolding expertise.

Latest technology

Today’s technology driven companies need cable systems (integration of cable, overmold and assembly expertise), rather than mere cable assemblies, to achieve the desired results. Selection of a supplier with the core competence to meet your needs is a key ingredient for success. OEM’s sometimes move business to the lowest bidder, only to find out later that they received what they paid for (typically very little) and they are forced to deal with customer complaints driven by field failures.

High-performance overmold design is the lynch pin between the cable and connector system. Design considerations include application mobility, operating temperature, mechanical requirements and compound compatibility with jacket materials, all playing a key role in the success of the overall system. Shielded assemblies require special consideration to ensure that the shield remains contiguous throughout the mold.

Overmolding can also provide environmental protection to the mated pair through the designed introduction of an interfacial moisture-sealing ring. The seal rings inhibit the migration of moisture into the connector system, moisture that can affect the signal integrity and enhance corrosion. Overmold systems can also provide protection to the cable and equipment through development of systems that de-mate at designed pull strength. If excessive force is put on the cable, it will simply unplug rather than incurring the damages that usually result from a positive mating system.

Sophisticated product requirements demand specific company expertise to achieve cost-effective design solutions. Very low volume, high-performance applications are typically manufactured in the U.S.; however, medium-to high-volume markets require companies with ready access to lower labor rates, typically found in Asia or Mexico. Companies with these capabilities are able to support your product through the entire product life cycle from design through full production, providing cost effective product from a consistent technology base.

Going green

As the world increasingly focuses on improving the environment, many government initiatives have been launched that are having sweeping impacts on industry. Today’s environmental directives, such as RoHS (restriction of hazardous substances) and WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) are driving the industry to seek acceptable alternatives to restricted substances, while maintaining product performance for electronic applications. The ability to meet performance requirements and still achieve these environmental objects pose a great challenge for interconnect systems, particularly for highly mobile applications. The use of environmentally friendly solders and appropriate alternate alloy constructions is critical to compliance. An interconnect supplier’s ability to perform a complete range of mechanical testing, including flex and extension testing, is imperative to qualify alternate designs.

Nearly every industry relies on advanced interconnect solutions every day.

Supply, demand and support

Ease of supply chain management should be considered as part of the selection process, as well. Interconnect suppliers that can support Kanban and EDI order replenishment systems ensure proper management of product inventory. Order replenishment support ensures timely product delivery while significantly reducing inventory and the cost-of-order processing.

Electro-mechanical contract manufacturing is another key offering to look for when choosing an interconnect solutions provider. The ability to support contract manufacturing provides additional benefits in the area of cost and supply chain management. Low-cost manufacturing centers are significantly lower over all manufacturing costs, ensuring a market competitive end product.

Conclusion

Regardless of your industry, there are certain specific product design parameters, and possibly a number of stringent environmental regulations with which to comply. Nearly every industry - from medical to military to telecommunications - relies on advanced interconnect solutions everyday. There are four key capabilities that should be strongly considered as constants in your selection process: custom design and manufacturing; custom assembly; contract manufacturing and custom overmold. In today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, selection of an appropriate interconnect supplier capable of meeting all your interconnect needs is more important than ever.

Paul Carter is vice president of sales and marketing for Whitney Blake Company, an interconnect solutions provider. For more information call 800-323-0479 or visit www.whitneyblake.com.


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