How to Source the Best Electronics Connectors

For buyers and designers in OEMs, choosing and ordering electronic connectors is an essential part of the role.

However, as the pace of technological changes continues to accelerate, it is impossible for most designers or purchasing teams to stay up to date on the vast range of possible options and versions of connectors currently available.

As a result, even when a more suitable connector may be available, it is often easier to stay with the familiar; procurement teams can follow the established trend, simply copy-pasting the existing part number into a search engine to find suppliers.

Another Way

Many electronic component suppliers offer an extensive catalogue of connectors.  So instead of asking for a particular part number, an alternative approach is to present your requirements and let the sourcing company identify the best match for your needs. This may be the same connector that you are already using, or it might be slightly different and you can then evaluate your options.

Mark Morton, Managing Director at Leotronics a Hampshire based electronic connectors supplier says “At Leotronics we understand that providing the best service for our clients is not just a case of ordering more of what was used before. Instead, we focus on asking the right questions so that our team can use their knowledge and industry experience to identify exactly what is required from the connector and advise the client on the best options and solutions.”

The ‘Building Block’ Physical Requirements of the Perfect Connector

Below is a guide to the variable physical elements which contribute to the connector design, and depending on the OEMs exact needs will enable the sourcing company to make the most appropriate recommendations.

Pitch Size.  Pitch is the dimension between contacts. This is usually established by the carrying capacity and physical space of the application. Usually specified in mm and can be up to 2 decimal places eg a 2.54mm pitch connector.

Number of Contacts. Contacts are the number of contact points, also referred to as the number of circuits or the number of ‘ways’ (eg 4-way) or the number of pins.  Standard connectors often offer anywhere between 2 and 80 circuits. A common misconception is that connectors are only available in a certain multiple, and a buyer may combine three 4-circuit connectors when actually they want 10 circuits – but were unaware that was an option.

Contact Arrangement. The contacts may be arranged in different layouts, including single row also known as SIL (single in line), dual row or staggered.  Available space is often a determining factor in the design.

Connector Application. What is the role of the connector? I.e. what is it connecting?  Is it mating two PCBs together i.e. a board to board application or is it mating a cable or a wire to a board or two cables together? 

Special Features.  Does the connector need to have any special features such as polarisation to prevent incorrect mating or locking for hostile vibrating environments? 

Client Requirements

Leotronics’ Morton advises that a good sourcing company will look at the client requirements as well as the physical product requirements;

“Once we have understood the physical connector specification, we also consider other client requirements such as timescales, budget and technical performance levels to help us recommend the best solution for the client.”

Availability: Morton and his team will first try to suggest something that already exists and is readily available, ideally from several suppliers to ensure continuity of availability. In this scenario samples are easily available, delivery times are minimal and there are no additional tooling costs.

However, if a connector matching the exact requirements isn’t already available, custom connectors can be designed, tooled and manufactured, although this inevitably adds time into the schedule to allow for testing and production. The OEM needs to conduct a cost benefit analysis comparing using the custom component for the desired design or modifying the design to take advantage of an existing component.

Quality: Connectors are usually available in different standards with different associated levels of performance and costs. Understanding the quality requirements can allow for significant cost savings to be made. For example, do the connector pins needs to plated in gold or would tin suffice? Does the application warrant connectivity when a fixed application would be suitable?

Fit for Purpose: The recommended solution should meet the desired form, fit and functional requirements of the client’s design brief.

Leotronics are founding members of Conexcon and the UK distributor for Cvilux, Greencom, and Leoco providing high-quality, UL Approved electrical connectors, cables and cable assemblies to a variety of industries.