What Are Electronic Connectors?

Electronic connectors are complex devices that join electronic circuits and are integral to assembling, installing, and supplying power to electronic devices. As such, connectors are a critical component found in every type of electronic equipment used in industrial machinery, consumer electronics, communications, and appliances. While these devices oftentimes go overlooked, they are a major part of making an electronic product functional and complete.

Electronic Connector Components

A majority of electronic connectors are temporary or removable, allowing users to take advantage of them as permanent electrical joints in some applications. They are composed of two main components: the housing and the terminals. The housing is the structure that holds the terminals and maintains the stability between connections. More than that, it isolates the terminals from other electronic components to prevent short-circuiting, and it also protects the terminals from the operating environment. In terms of material composition, the connector housing is generally designed using insulating materials like molded plastics or ceramics.

The connector terminals, on the other hand, are the pins that provide a continuous path for electrical current to flow between two circuits. These pins are made of electrically conductive materials such as brass, phosphor bronze, beryllium copper, and high copper alloys.

Electronic Connector Terminology

Electronic connectors are typically found as pairs wherein each half has a designated gender. The male component is called the plug, and the female component is called the jack or socket. The jack is equipped with socket holes that contain the terminals and are affixed to wire, cable, or device. To establish their connection, the plug’s terminals are inserted into the socket holes.

To hold the connector in place during mating, a lock mechanism is used to prevent the connector from accidental uncoupling. There are a number of different locking mechanisms that one can take advantage of, including push-pull connectors, bayonet couplings, and fine thread screw couplings.

Next, the number of contacts refers to the number of conductive elements that can make an electrical connection. Contact pitch, or pitch, refers to the center-to-center distance between adjacent pins. When pins are arranged in an array, the pitch between rows and columns can vary. It is worth noting that the contact pitch affects the compatibility of connectors. For example, a larger pitch indicates that there are fewer terminals per connector area, reducing the likeliness of electrical arcing. Electrical arcing occurs when the current jumps between pins, which tends to happen when the pins are too close in proximity.

Each pin in the connector is serialized, meaning that a number is assigned to a pin based on the sequence designated by a set standard; however, keep in mind that the pins are numbered in a counterclockwise direction within integrated circuits. Other important terms to consider include pin sequence, mating cycles, mount, termination, strain relief, and performance parameters.

Features of Electronic Connectors

Some types of electronic connectors have features that make them suitable for specialized application. Among these types are hermetically sealed connectors, water-resistant connectors, moisture and oil resistant connectors, EMI and/or RFI filtering connectors, and ESD shielded connectors.

Hermetically sealed connectors utilize highly engineered glass-to-metal sealing to create an airtight seal. They are air and moisture resistant, which allows them to withstand extreme environmental conditions. More than that, they work optimally even if they are fully submerged in water and can endure pressures up to a certain depth. Water-resistant connectors protect electronic connections from water damage. Unlike hermetically sealed connectors, however, they cannot operate under water. Moisture and oil resistant connectors also protect electronic connections from oil or moisture damage. EMI and/or RFI filtering connectors, as their name suggests, prevent EMI and RFI. Lastly, ESD shielded connectors protect the electronic connection from electrostatic discharge damage.

Other popular connector types include board-to-board connectors, box header connectors, backplane connectors, barrel connectors, automotive and industrial connectors, molex connectors, and many others.

Electronic Connector Termination

Termination refers to the method of fastening the terminals together. Some of the most common termination methods include soldering and crimping. Soldering consists of melting a solder around the contacts or terminals to join two or more electronic parts together. In contrast, crimping is used to connect stranded wires to ring, spade, or blade connectors, which are utilized in connecting multiple wires in a single terminal point.


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