Business & GA, Commercial, Military

Product Focus: Connectors

By Emily Feliz | July 1, 2007
Send Feedback

Customers’ ever-present demands of more, cheaper, lighter and faster are prompting a wave of high-density interconnect devices, particularly in the commercial and military aviation sectors.

Aviation connector companies say faster, lighter options are well received in the market for their performance and convenience. However, this performance comes with a more expensive price tag.

"There is an increasing demand for higher density interconnect devices that are more economical and more readily available than traditional Mil Spec, Space and Flight grade material connectors and components," said Greg Jones, sales and marketing manager for Minneapolis-based Omnetics Connector Corp., a designer and manufacturer of micro and nano miniature interconnect products.

"The primary advantage of high density micro and nano interconnect is more signals and I/O’s in a lower weight, low mass device. This allows for sufficient digital interconnect in the aircraft or UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle]. The lower overall weight consumes less energy/fuel, and allows for longer flights, missions and surveillance," Jones said. Omnetics unveiled a line of off-the-shelf nano miniature connectors, called Bi-Lobe Nanos, which mimic older, larger connectors but with reduced size and weight. In avionics, they are most often used in flight deck instrumentation and displays, the company said. The metal Bi-Lobes have been proven in uses including military aircraft, unmanned vehicles, space robotics and gyro systems.

The company said they are lightweight, low mass, high-density, 0.025-inch pitch nano connectors, built to conform with Mil-DTL-32139, a nano miniature specification released in 2003. Omnetics was expecting Qualified Product List (QPL) approval of its Bi-Lobe Connectors by September.

"The technology... allows designers to achieve the weight reductions their programs and customers are demanding," Jones said.

The use of this type of connector is most prevalent on military and commercial flight decks, where it is commonly found in instrumentation, displays and navigation systems. Conversely, they are rarely found on the skin of the aircraft and in fly-by-wire systems, he said.

As even more sophisticated avionics devices come down the pike, and as new aircraft hit the market, the need for these high-speed connectors will become more critical, suppliers said.

"The increased speed allows the aircraft data network to handle all the new electronic systems that are part of today’s commercial (and military) aircraft," said Russ Graves, aerospace business development manager at Tyco Electronics. "In addition to the electrical performance provided by quadraxial connectors and contacts, several packaging options are available as the industry becomes more accepting and understands the design advantages of rectangular connectors compared to traditional circular connectors," he said.

In November, Trompeter, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Stratos International, configured its 70/370, 80/380 and 150/3150 series twinax/triax connectors to support the 40 Mbps data rate for military avionics applications. The company said the connector series is performance-rated to 500 MHz and delivers error-free digital signal transmission.

But the faster, newer connectors come at a price. "Typically speaking; the smaller the form factor, the more expensive the connectors become," Jones said.

Quadraxial connectors and fiber-optic connector technologies, among others, attempt to fill this need for more data at faster rates. Fiber optic-based connector systems have high capacity for data transfer and are nearly immune to electrical interference, said Graves. Deploying a fiber-based system can often have lighter weight than comparable copper-based systems.

"With high-speed, high-bandwidth and high-density connectors, it is implied that they’ll handle more data and address weight issues by cramming a lot of content into a small space," Graves said. "The paradox, however, is that there’s been a considerable increase in the amount of data on the aircraft, and a need for more data-carrying cables and connectors."

"Fiber optic technology is making a big impact," said Christian Slinkman, industry marketing manager, for military and aerospace at Molex, a Lisle, Ill.-based manufacturer of electronic, electrical and fiber optic interconnection systems.

"Fiber optics is well-suited for a number of avionics and airborne related applications because of their light weight, secure systems, the increase in bandwidth and high channel density," Slinkman said.

In March, Molex introduced the LC2, a line of metallic optical connectors capable of withstanding harsh environments, making it ideal for aviation and aerospace applications.

"The LC2 Connectors push the envelope of optical SFF connectors, enabling our customers to expand the use of traditional optical connectors into these harsh environment applications," said David Rifkin, product marketing manager at Molex.

Slinkman noted that fiber-optic connector technology is being heavily used by Boeing and Airbus, along with regional jet manufacturers. There also is potential in the aircraft aftermarket.

Optical Expanded Beam Connectors

Optical Expanded Beam (EB) connectors are "taking the U.S. military by storm," offering longer life and lower overall costs for customers, says one supplier.

Dale Reed, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Stratos International, based in Chicago, said optical beam connectors, which have long been used in Europe, are slowly making their way into American military aircraft.

EB connectors adjust the line-of-sight of a transmission signal into an optical beam many times the original signal diameter. The expanded light transmission is less sensitive to mechanical misalignments and end-face contamination "The hermaphroditic design allows simple, rapid rigging and daisy chaining of deployment," Stratos says.

The technology is used in field-deployable communications, oil and gas exploration, aerospace and other rugged applications.

Last November, Stratos said elements of the United States military had ordered the company’s HMA series fiberoptic EB connectors to link tactical optical communications cables in the field. Tyco Electronics last year introduced the "Pro Beam Mini" connector family based on EB technology.

"This technology is simply more forgiving in harsh environments where particulate matter or vibration can obstruct the mated surface," Reed said. "Our military is moving quickly to this technology right now for battlefield communications links, and we believe aircraft applications will begin soon.

"In addition to making the optical mating area larger so that an individual particle is less of a percentage of the total area, the optical signal is protected by a special coated lens which, in addition to not reflecting optical energy, is non-scratchable and is easily wiped clean without clean room conditions or special chemistry," Reed said. "On top of that, the optical path is across a tiny air gap... so vibration is not a problem."


Aeroflite Enterprises
American Connector Corp.
Ametek Aerospace
Amphenol Aerospace
Data Bus Products
Device Technologies
Electro Enterprises
Electronic Cable Specialists
Excalibur Systems Inc.
HiRel Connectors
HS Electronics Inc.
Inertial Airline Services Inc.
Intro Corp.
J&K Connectors
Joslyn Sunbank
Marine Air Supply
MilesTek Corp.
Mobile Electronics
Omnetics Connector Corp.
PEI Genesis
PIC Wire & Cable
Spacecraft Components
Stratos International Inc.
Tri-Star Electronics International
Trompeter Electronics
Tyco Electronics
Wings Electro Sales Co. Inc.
W.L. Gore & Associates

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox