The crucial role of contacts in connector functionality

In the realm of modern technology, connectors play a vital role in facilitating seamless communication and power transmission in various devices and systems. At the heart of these connectors lie their often-overlooked components: contacts. These small but critical elements ensure the reliability, efficiency and durability of connectors across industries. Here, John Embleton, customer application engineer at connector specialist PEI-Genesis, delves into why contacts are indispensable to connector functionality.

Contacts are metallic conductive elements in connectors that establish electrical and mechanical connections between mating connector pairs. They come in various shapes, sizes and materials, each tailored to meet specific application requirements. Contacts are typically housed in connector housings and engage with their counterparts during mating, forming an electrical pathway for signals, power or RF transmission.

Ensuring electrical integrity

One of the primary functions of contacts is to maintain a connector’s electrical integrity. They must establish low-resistance connections to ensure efficient signal transmission without compromising quality or introducing interference. Contacts achieve this by maintaining consistent contact force and surface area, which minimises resistance and prevents signal degradation.

Contact resistance refers to the resistance encountered by the flow of electrical current through the contact interface. It’s essential to minimise contact resistance to prevent signal degradation and power loss. High-quality contacts are designed to have low resistance. They usually feature platings or coatings that enhance conductivity and reduce resistance, such as  gold, silver, nickel and tin.

The material selected for contacts also influences resistance. Materials with high conductivity, such as copper and its alloys, are preferred for applications requiring low resistance.

Facilitating mechanical stability

Beyond electrical conductivity, contacts also provide mechanical stability to connectors. Through precise design and engineering, contacts ensure secure mating and disengagement of connector pairs, even in harsh environmental conditions. This mechanical stability is crucial in applications where connectors are subjected to vibrations, shocks or fluctuations in temperature, such as -65°C to 200°C. This prevents accidental disconnections and ensuring uninterrupted operation.

Contact design, including shape, spring mechanisms and engagement mechanisms, influences the mating and retention forces exerted during connection. Similarly, the design and material of the connector housing play a significant role in providing structural support and stability during mating and retention. Robust housing designs enhance connector durability and reliability.

High-quality materials, such as engineering plastics, metal alloys and composite materials, are chosen for connector construction to withstand mechanical stress and wear. Additionally, specialised coatings and surface treatments, can enhance wear resistance and prolong connector lifespan.

Supporting high-speed data transmission

In today’s interconnected world, the demand for high-speed data transmission is ever-growing. Contacts play a pivotal role in meeting this demand by enabling connectors capable of supporting high-frequency signals and data rates. Through advanced designs and materials, contacts minimise signal loss, impedance mismatches and electromagnetic interference, allowing for reliable data transmission in applications such as telecommunications, computing and consumer electronics.

Contacts with controlled impedance, minimal signal skew and low cross-sectional area optimise signal propagation and minimise signal distortion. Connectors should also be designed to withstand mechanical stress, vibration and temperature variations without compromising signal integrity or mechanical stability.

PEI-Genesis stocks a wide range of connector contacts that are used in a variety of applications including military and commercial aerospace, satellite, telecom, navigation, avionics and oil and gas exploration. Our wide range of connector contacts are available in standard and high-speed varieties by industry leaders such as Amphenol, ITT Cannon, Souriau, PRECI-DIP and Tri-Star.

While contacts may be small in size, their impact on connector performance and reliability is immense. They are the backbone of connector functionality, providing the essential electrical and mechanical connections that power modern technology. From enabling reliable signal transmission to ensuring mechanical stability and environmental resilience, contacts play a multifaceted role in various industries and applications.

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