Electrical connectors are plugs and receptacles that affix electrical wiring. They also serve as disconnect points to enable maintenance and repair of the system, or repair of an individual wire/cabling bundle. They maintain circuit conductive paths within IT systems, powerplant systems, voltage regulators, peripheral connections, power inputs, etc.; connectors are used in practically every industry. The structure of this mechanical device integrates an outer sleeve, inner sleeve, and mating pin/s or receptacle/s. Paired or mating connectors are referred to as male and female. “Male” connectors have a center pin feature and contacts, while “female” connectors are fitted to receive the contacts and pin/s. Connectors can be constructed of a multitude of materials depending on application. They are crimped- or soldered-on to the ends of wiring or cable. Electrical connectors are vulnerable to degradation and corrosion from vibration, moisture exposure, chemical exposure, pressurization cycles, etc. Fiber-optic cabling, connection, and accessories are categorized on a separate page and will not be detailed below.
There is an ample selection of electrical connector types. All are categorized based on wire size, contact pitch, polarity, voltage type, shielding, etc. In addition, connectors are labeled with an ID which typically consists of letters and numbers. The most common identification system (AN) labels connectors by standard, plug type, class, size, contact arrangement number, contact style, and insert rotation. Connectors are also designated by the matching wire type and can be found stamped on conduit and/or at termination points.
There are standards set by industry organizations and global governing bodies that apply to the electrical connector part type family. Some of the standards are set by the following organizations: American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Council on Large Electrical Systems (CIGRE), National Electrical Safety Code (NESC), Canadian/Mexican/National Electric Code (ANCE NMX), Canadian Standards Association & CSA International (CSA Group), Institute of Electrical Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the National Electrical Manufacturers (NEMA), and others.
Prevalently used standards are labeled as follows:
ANCE NMX: NMX-J-543-ANCET, NMX-J-548-ANCET, NMX-J-519-ANCET, NMX-J-590-ANCET
ANSI: ANSI-C119.1M, ANSI-C119.4M, ANSI-C119.5M, ANSI-C119.6
CSA: CSA C22.2 No. 41T, CSA C22.2 No. 65T, CSA C22.2 No. 188T, CSA C22.2 No. 198.2T;
IEEE: IEEE C2 (NESC) IEE, IEEE80a, IEEE837p, IEEE142, IEE1100
Military Grade Connectors
Army/Navy (AN) standards are specified by the US military. Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class K standards are used in the aerospace industry. Class K connectors are made of steel or steel alloys; class A-D connectors are made of aluminum. Class A connectors are general-purpose standard, one-piece back shell connectors. A class B compliant back shell is separated into two parts along its length; they are used where soldered connectors are readily accessible. Pressurized connectors fall under class C. Class D connectors are best suited to environments with moisture and vibration risks and integrate a sealing grommet in the back shell. Lastly, Class K connectors are fireproof, and are usually greater in length than other connectors.
Common Connector Types
DC refers to direct current; there is a variety of DC connectors that exist, and they are the most prevalent type of connector. They are utilized for LED lighting, electrical panels, computer systems, XLR connections, and USB connections.
AC refers to alternating current supply. AC connectors are categorized by voltage, phases, and application. The most prevalent AC connector types include straight-blade style and twist lock style. This type of connector is typically seen in use with computer monitors, battery packs, vehicle charging cables, etc.
There are three main types of barrel connectors: PCB mount, cable mount, and panel mount. “Male” barrel connectors are referred to as plugs, and “female” connectors are referred to as jacks.
Molex connectors are used in applications that require a high electrical current; they can be used to supply and connect multiple system circuits. These types of connectors are integrated with hard drives and optical drives.
USB-A is a “female” connector type that is integrated on computers, hubs, HUDs, etc. Their mating connector can be found on IT accessory components or USB cables, as well as USB memory sticks.
USB-B connectors form easily detachable connections integrated with peripheral devices i.e. Arduino boards, and are considered durable and inexpensive. They are seen in a panel mount or board mount configuration.
This connection, like USB-B, is seen on peripheral devices. Its small size enables it to be utilized in external hard drives, cellphones, etc.
USB-Micro’s are often integrated in cameras, cell phones, charge points, small computers, and the like. USB-Micro connectors are utilized for USB-OTG conditions and can operate as peripheral connectors or host connectors.
HDMI connectors are primarily integrated in systems that require digital audio/video data transmission.
RCA connectors are utilized to transmit electric video and audio signals.
Systems that require connection with an external antenna tend to integrate SMA connectors; accordingly, they are referred to as SMA RF connectors. RP-SMA connectors are also used for the same application. SMA connectors are also utilized with Cell, GPS, and Bluetooth technology.
Contact Shape & Assemblies
Contact points can act as splices or terminals. There are three standard contact shapes including circular, rectangular, and coaxial. The conventional connector assemblies consist of bolts, nuts, flat washers, lock washers, Belleville washers, belts, flat washers, etc.
Graphite, Copper, Aluminum, Silicon Bronze, galvanized Stainless Steel, plastic composites, and oxide inhibitors are all materials used for electrical connectors. The components are particularly vulnerable to galvanic corrosion, tension degradation, and damage from moisture; as such, material must be chosen based on application.
Most contact pins are made of bronze that has been coated and dipped in sulfide. Pins are coated in sulfide to strengthen their anti-corrosion properties and protect them from degradation.
A conduit is a tube or coating that protects electric wiring; it is used in various industries. There are four main varieties of conduit: metallic, nonmetallic, rigid, and flexible form.
Aerospace Electrical Connectors
Aircraft connectors are subject to multiple environmental stressors; accordingly, they must be removed and replaced relatively often. Electrical connectors are integral to multiple aircraft avionic platforms: IFE systems, flight control systems, glass cockpit systems, sensors, etc.
Aerospace connectors that are prevalent in the industry include D-sub type connectors, data bus connectors, coaxial connectors, triaxial connectors, and others.
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