For the application of connectors in harsh environments, rugged versions protect against malfunctions caused by dirt or fluid contamination and damage that might be the result of excessive external force. High-speed-connector manufacturer ODU replaces standard connectors with a rugged connector series with a diameter of 11.9mm, and data transfer capabilities including USB 3.0 and 10Gb/s Ethernet.

The evolution of the future soldier requires the advancement of technology in dismounted soldiers’ devices. We will in the coming years see an increased need for lightweight, miniaturised and customised devices that enhance the specific role of each category of warfighter. Several factors must be considered in the design of connectors:

  • They must be as small in diameter as possible to minimise the possibility of getting snagged by objects in the path of the warfighter.
  • They must support a comprehensive range of protocols.
  • They must have no significant impact on the data-transfer rate for the protocol they support.
  • They must be able to be connected and disconnected thousands of times with no impact on performance.
  • They must be capable of ‘breakaway’ so that devices to which they are attached do not get damaged.
  • They must be dirtproof and water resistant, and capable of operating in a wide range of temperatures.

Size considerations

Several manufacturers offer connectors designed for use in military applications. Most often, a standard connector is simply enclosed in a ruggedised shell, but with this approach, the shells are of varying diameters, and are large: 25-30mm or more.

ODU has taken a different approach. Instead of accommodating standard connectors, it has designed an interface that can meet all the electrical and functional specifications of diverse high-speed protocols but in a more compact format. Its ODU AMC series of inline connectors uses standard-sized shells, which, for some protocols, can be as little as 11.9mm in diameter.

It also offers a variety of internal pin/socket configuration options to accommodate diverse protocols such as: Ethernet (1-10Gb/s), USB 2.0 and 3.0, Firewire S400, and HDMI 2.0. The ODU connectors are also capable of supporting multiple protocols within a single cable when crosstalk is not an issue.

Electrical considerations

There are several electrical characteristics of a connector that govern its operational capabilities. These include:

  • current rating: how many amps of current the connector pins can carry without overheating
  • insertion loss: the power loss from one side of the connector to the other
  • return loss: the consequence of any mismatch between the impedance of the system and the connector
  • susceptibility to electromagnetic interference (EMI): the potential for the disruptive effects of EMI (based on the quality of shielding on the connector pins and cable wires).

Mechanical considerations

The mechanical characteristics that determine a connector’s suitability for rugged applications are durability and reaction to physical stress.In battlefield conditions, the likelihood that the cables connecting wearable devices will receive substantial physical punishment – such as ground contact or being snagged by tree branches – is high. If the connector plug and receptacle fail to unmate under such physical stress as this, the device itself could be ripped out of the warfighter’s uniform, possibly resulting in irreparable damage. The ability of a connector to separate cleanly under duress – referred to as breakaway – is therefore an essential element of unmating.

Environmental considerations

Harsh environments are defined by temperature and humidity extremes, dust and dirt contamination, exposure to chemicals and gases, and immersion in water. The degree of protection against intrusion by particulate matter and fluids is defined by IEC standard 60529, which provides a product rating known as Ingress Protection (IP). For example, IP68 applies to depths greater than 1m.

Value-added support

No matter how good connectors in the middle and at the ends of a cable assembly are, their advantages can be completely negated by a poor-quality cable or poor manufacturing. To circumvent such shortcomings, ODU offers custom cable assembly services.

The company predicts that connectors will need to be ever smaller and faster as trends continue, and that the next three to five years will offer connector designers some exciting new challenges. ODU is more than ready to take them on.