Molex examines convergence of ruggedisation and miniaturisation in new report

Molex has released a report that explores the ever-increasing role of ruggedised, miniaturised interconnect solutions in unlocking new possibilities for electronic device innovation across a growing swath of industries. The report, entitled “Breaking Boundaries: Uniting Ruggedisation and Miniaturisation in Connector Design,” looks at the trends, tradeoffs and enabling technologies that remove roadblocks while helping shape 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.”

In this industry report, Molex defines miniature connectors as having a pitch of 2.54mm or less while ruggedness refers to features for withstanding the harshest environments and mechanical stresses. The convergence of interconnect ruggedisation and miniaturisation has enabled major innovations in the automotive industry, especially in supporting electric vehicles (EVs) and zonal architectures. Now the trend is permeating other industries, including consumer electronics (e.g., fitness trackers, smartwatches and smart home devices); industrial automation (e.g., industrial robots, touchscreens and sensors); as well as medical devices (e.g., endoscopes, insulin pumps and wearable health monitors).

Growing adoption of compact, durable connectors is gaining traction in other application areas, such as smart agriculture. Vertical farming systems with dense sensor and lighting installations require space-efficient connectors that work in wet, humid environments without interruption. Smaller, lighter and rugged connectors found in agricultural drones or “flying tractors” also must be protected against extreme temperature and excessive vibration, along with exposure to moisture, dust and corrosive chemicals.

Molex’s new report explores best practices for clearing major design and manufacturing roadblocks to facilitate the design of increasingly smaller, lighter and more reliable connectors. Aluminium alloys and specialised, high-strength steel, as well as high-performance polymers, offer exceptional durability and lightweight construction. Processing these materials into complex connector geometries, however, often calls for specialised techniques, ranging from micro-molding and high-precision machining to laser welding or selective plating.

In addition, dense pitch layouts enable higher-contact density to accommodate smaller device footprints, but they require high-precision manufacturing and assembly. Increased risk of crosstalk and ineffective heat dissipation also can occur. To mitigate these issues, engineers can rely on advanced signal routing techniques, shielding and isolation methods, along with advanced thermal management strategies like heat sinks or thermal vias. Molex DuraClik Connectors feature housings made from high-temperature PBT material and secure terminal retention to withstand extreme automotive environments.

Multi-Functional Terminals (MFTs) represent a significant leap forward in miniaturised connector technology by integrating multiple functionalities — power, signal and even mechanical features, like locking mechanisms, into a single compact connector. Molex’s new report also investigates top environmental factors that can compromise component reliability while offering strategies and solutions to ensure optimal connector performance in harsh conditions. Strain relief features and contact design help optimise connector performance despite constant exposure to the stresses of vibration, shock and repeated mating cycles.

At Molex’s Global Reliability Lab, engineers simulate real-world vibration, temperature cycling and exposure to harsh chemicals. Molex Micro-Lock Plus Connectors address vibration challenges with a positive locking mechanism to ensure secure mating while averting accidental uncoupling in high-vibration environments. The connector’s metal solder tabs provide added strain relief to solder joints for enhanced resistance to mechanical stress and vibration.

Since even a single drop of water or speck of dust can create corrosion, shorts, and ultimately, device failure, ingress protection is essential. Molex’s Squba Connectors feature IP68-rated seals certified as resistant to nearly five feet of water for 30 minutes. These compact connectors optimise power delivery in one of the smallest, most durable form factors available.

As devices continue to shrink in size yet grow in functionality, Molex engineers are pushing the design boundaries of miniaturisation and ruggedisation to solve real-world business problems and exceed customer expectations.

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