By David Pike on behalf of Mouser Electronics.

Choosing connectors for demanding applications is now more important than ever. Sophisticated devices are being implemented in harsh environments as industrial users adopt the latest technologies. Designers need to ensure connectivity in the most difficult conditions, and many are turning to high-reliability solutions.

High reliability is the gold standard in the connector industry. This is a term often used to describe products with a military pedigree. For decades, manufacturers have offered connectors that meet military specifications. Subjected to rigorous testing, MIL-DTL or BS part number connectors provide superior reliability in the toughest environments.

However, this superior performance comes at a price, and the expensive MIL-Spec or BS part number is not the only way to achieve reliability. In an era of extended deadlines, rising costs and logistical challenges, perhaps now is the time to stop focusing on high reliability and start talking about appropriate reliability instead.

Mating cycles
When choosing a connector for demanding roles, most manufacturers publish a minimum number of pairing cycles in their specifications, as it gives a good indication of how long the connector will last. A connector for military specifications – the archetypal solution for high reliability – boasts a published performance of 500 or even 1000 mating cycles. However, the modest USB connector, which has been with us for nearly 3 decades, is designed to provide up to 5,000 mating cycles and there are even versions available that will provide a service life of 20,000 mating cycles or more.

Almost all manufacturers that produce products that meet the MIL standard also make the same connector under their own part number. They are usually produced on the same production line, using the same materials and providing the same productivity. As an example, the always popular D38999 Series III round connector is available from Amphenol as a TV, from Souriau as an 8D and from ITT Cannon as a KJA family.

The same goes for D-Sub connectors sold as M24308 and micro-D connectors like M83513. Discovering what manufacturers call their equivalent product can save a lot of money.

Alternative choice
Mating cycles are not the only measure of connector reliability. The environment in which the connector will be used must also be taken into account. We regularly talk about IP ratings, shock and vibration and resistance to electromagnetic interference (EMI). The need for implementation even under these conditions will have a huge effect on the design of each connector. There are many connectors that will provide excellent service.

This is important to remember, as connectors do not have to be designed for military specifications in order to be military grade. Manufacturers such as LEMO have been producing connectors for decades, subjecting them to a number of tests that prove their suitability in a wide range of industries.

Designed for use in applications where failure is not an option, highly reliable connectors provide superior performance in tough conditions. However, the next time you need to choose a new product, ask if the gold standard is the best solution or even if you need a highly reliable connector at all. The connector industry is huge and diverse, and the right solution does not have to be expensive to ensure high performance.

Do you really need a High Reliability Connector?

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