Quo Vadis, Connector Industry?

Whilst boring to most electrical engineers, connectors manage to gain significant interest in our search queries.

 

Whilst boring to most electrical engineers, connectors manage to gain significant interest in our search queries. At the last Hannover Fair, connector manufacturers showed off an interesting developmental path.

Let us start out with the obvious; if something does not use extremely advanced technologies or difficult-to-clone software, it will get cloned in Asia eventually. Connectors such as Molex’s well-liked MicroFit series can, of course, be had somewhat cheaply when comparing distributors. The real profit, on the other hand, lays in sourcing products “elsewhere”.

 
 

The “pressure” felt by traditional vendors is best summed up in a recent shot by yours truly at Hannover Messe – Tianli had its booth literally metres away from trusty old connector-wiseguy Weidmüller.

What will change?

When faced with Chinese pressure, the safest response involves going into high technology and offering value-added services. A RIGOL spectrum analyzer might be able to give you similar performance in heterodyne sweep. Units like the Keysight MSA can play out their strengths by acting as an application platform solving technical problems without further human intervention.

The clearest demonstration of transition was shown at the booth of Phoenix Contacts; the company exhibited a wide variety of innovative plug designs, which aimed to reduce the time needed for the assembly of components. Some plugs even accept Litz wires without additional “wrapping” – the practice of tinning Litz wires is frowned upon in power electronics circles due to odd behaviors of the tin when high currents flow.

In addition to that, a drive towards technology is clearly visible. All vendors offer various SPS-like process computers which are intended to bind users to their connector and product portfolio. Weidmueller even went so far as to integrate a web-based programming environment into one of their systems; users can connect a phone or a notebook and code away without needing to install dedicated software.

Logistics, of course, also remains king. Weidmueller jumps onto the current sensor market by offering a series of sensing elements of their own – the idea behind this is that users who already have a relationship with the vendor will be less likely to buy another product for convenience reasons.

 
 

To Spend or Not to Spend…

Some years ago, development kits were expensive by definition…

 

Some years ago, development kits were expensive by definition. As the “maker revolution” redistributed electronics development into smaller and smaller companies, prices fell. Whilst Boeing or UAC might not flinch at a 600€ PCB, some of our clients balk heavily. When dealing with Nordic Semiconductors, developers have the choice between a large amount of boards, all of which recently gained a lot of attention. As always, use OEMSecrets to find the best prices – even when dealing with “super-low volume” such as development boards, distributors will and do charge more or less contango.

 

NRF51-DONGLE

A few years ago, an event organized by WEKA Media raised attention – a speaker claimed that many semiconductor vendors create but one silicon design, and tailor the ICs to various wireless protocols only via the loaded firmware.

The NRF51 supports a set of so-called SoftDevices, which can be used to emulate various wireless systems – it can be used as both Bluetooth and custom wireless system. Finally, the product can even be used as a Bluetooth sniffer, thereby saving money.

 

NRF52 DK

Adding hardware to the above-mentioned dev board can be difficult – soldering to “eye side contacts” is not exactly a pleasure. Thus, the nRF52 DK was introduced, providing an Arduino Uno-like pinout which greatly simplifies the adding of various peripherals.

This is especially interesting for all working under time pressure; if the demands placed on the “edge device” are low, a bit of firmware run on the wireless module can eliminate the micro-controller. Incidentally, Nordic are not the only firm doing this – a variety of other companies deploy similar technologies, albeit under strict NDA.

 

NRF6936 Thingy:52

In some cases, starting out with an advanced design can be helpful – the final revision can then be created by “eliminating” unneeded elements. The Thingy52 provides a set of sensors along with a GPIO extender, whose schematics are outlined in the second half of the PDF found here.

Nordic furthermore provides a set of example applications for Android and iOS – if you need to get started quickly, this is definitely the way to go.

 

Even more…

The three above-mentioned products provide wide-band access to various wireless protocols; this is especially useful if you aren’t completely sure which way leads to the future. If you already know which chip to use, using one of the dedicated development kits for the specific chip can be a more attractive option.

In short, if work on an RF system is planned, purchasing the evaluation board definitely is a good idea. Knowing that the radio software works simplifies design verification – in addition to that, never underestimate the amount of software work needed. Buying developer boards allows the software team to get to work before hardware is ready to ship…