Connectors address the SWaP-C challenge

Harwin’s vice president of product, Ryan Smart, looks at how sourcing optimised interconnect technologies addresses the demands of today’s high-performance applications.

From uncrewed aerial vehicles to portable electronics, designers of modern electronic applications are under pressure to deliver high performance and reliability while minimising both size (S) and weight (W). At the same time, factors such as operational cost, sustainability and the use of batteries/energy harvesting techniques demand maximum power (P) efficiency. All these objectives must be met within available budget, meaning cost (C) must be kept as low as possible.

These requirements mean sourcing components that do the job and meet so-called SWaP-C criteria is a critical issue for today’s OEMs. As electromechanical components, connectors and associated cable assemblies are often the largest, heaviest items on the board, careful selection can make a significant difference to the S, W and C elements of SWaP-C, and to some extent the P element too.

There are few applications where engineers will not have to consider at least some element of the SWaP-C equation. Both small size and low weight, for example, are fundamental for IoT devices and aerial drones, while pressure on available board and rack space means computing/datacomms designs also demand minimum form factors. In the case of electric vehicles (EVs), while there may be more available space, every additional gram needs to be saved to maximize range. When it comes to power, ratings are rising and there is an increased need to mix power and data signal connectivity on a PCB or even in a single connector.

Cost will be important in most applications, especially consumer electronics and areas such as the new space market where, unlike government-backed organizations that previously dominated the industry, commercial operators are looking for aerospace-level performance and reliability at commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) prices.

The good news is a growing number of interconnect products are being designed with SWaP-C in mind. For the latest space applications engineers no longer have to choose from a limited range of approved, legacy connectors that are not at the cutting edge of technology and yet carry a significant cost, size and weight premium. Instead, they can source from a growing variety of COTS advanced compact, fine pitch and lightweight connectors that are rated for the vibration, shock, temperature extremes and outgassing performance associated with satellite launches and operation in a vacuum.

At the same time, more connector families are offering options that mix signal and power in a single product to further simplify the design, reduce the component count and minimize the size and weight of new and emerging designs.

Finally, in addition to advanced products, good suppliers will also help engineers to choose SWaP-C-optimized technologies by providing tools and support that speed the identification, selection and prototyping of connector applications. These range from comprehensive documentation covering product specifications, test report summaries, product training and tooling instruction, through to downloadable CAD models and comprehensive engineering services that encompass everything from cable assembly to rapid prototyping.