How to choose alternative connectors

In this article, Nicab helps purchasing professionals build a process for sourcing alternative interconnect products if supply chain disruptions threaten production.

OEMs have come to accept that global supply shortages are impacting manufacturing and no one can deny the daily challenges being faced. Although this is a short-term problem with a long tail it must be accepted and planned for. Assuming parts will be in stock for now is no longer an option. The best long-term solution is to have supply contracts in place that will cover six to twelve months.

For many companies, the ability to forecast and bulk buy is not an option, especially for contract manufacturers and sub-contractors who have no control over what products they will be required to make.

When faced with supply shortages of connectors and interconnect items, what can be done and what can be offered as alternatives? Firstly, it needs to be established if there is an alternative and that it will physically mate with the mating half. Many buyers will have their own horror stories of being offered alternatives that did not mate properly and in some cases came loose.

The next question is quality and approvals. This is the part many companies have the biggest challenge with as their product may have been through an approval process with the preferred part and they are reluctant to change purely down to product approvals.

This may be a genuine issue for medical or critical environment products. However, in most cases, an alternative part can often carry all required approvals. There is a misconception that generic connectors are cheap low quality and have no approvals. This is certainly not always the case and should be challenged.

A little-known fact is that any branded manufacturers have copies of other manufacturers connectors. Think pain killers such as paracetamol.

When looking at alternatives, here are three steps on how to decide what to use.

Step 1: Is there a branded version of the connector being sought? A good example is Molex’ Minifit JR and TE’s VAL-U-LOK both are identical and interchangeable with the same approvals. One is a good drop-in replacement for the other.

Step 2: If there is no branded alternative, is the generic alternative being offered from a reputable supplier? For example, Nicab spends time evaluating connectors by putting them through extensive test and quality control processes to establish if they pass stringent QA processes to be able to recommend to customers.

Step 3: Does the alternative have a track history? If so, the buyer can be assured they are good to use. Ask someone that uses the part and get an honest answer—a bit like any product review.