Think of a mating connector like you would a set of tires on a car. The more miles you drive, the more your tires wear down. Likewise, the more you connect/disconnect a connector, the more its contacts and components deteriorate. A connector mating cycle is the number of times it can be plugged and unplugged from its corresponding connection. A mating cycle “rating” means the connector was tested and can withstand repeated connection/disconnection while still meeting the specifications for maximum resistance and pull force (for instance, surface wear and tension).
Why the Mating Connector Cycles Matter
When choosing a mating connector, the mating cycle rating is a vital detail to consider. You can usually find this information on the manufacturer’s data sheet. The mating cycle rating will help you estimate the lifespan of a particular connector given the application for which it’s used.
For example, a USB connector for a computer will have a mating cycle in the thousands or tens of thousands. It is specially designed for regular or routine mating and unmating. A board-to-board connector (commonly found inside consumer electronics) may only be tested to withstand tens of cycles because the connector is not made for routine mating and unmating.
Failure to select a mating cycle rating that aligns with your application could result in a poor-quality product that is unreliable and short-lived.
Factors that Determine Mating Cycle Rating
Material and Plating Thickness
One of the most prominent factors that will contribute to a mating connector mating cycle rating is the material used for the contacts and plating, and the plating thickness. Cheap connectors with tin plating and copper alloy contacts may only last as few as 10 to 50 cycles. More expensive connectors with thick gold plating and phosphor bronze or beryllium copper contacts will withstand 500 cycles or more.
Note: This may not seem like a lot but keep in mind, the mating cycle rating specifically relates to the contact resistance. In most cases, customers get far more mating cycles out of their connectors.
The pass/fail threshold (which measures the connector resistance) will also indicate a connector’s mating cycle. If a connector has a low threshold, it will inherently support fewer mating cycles (and visa versa).
Certain mating styles (pin and socket, blade to blade, leaf spring) will wear out faster than others. When contact is made, we refer to the actual mating point as the “high spot.” These spots wear down over time and use, which leads to fluctuations in resistance.
Male vs. Female Contacts
Male contacts depend on plating to determine mating cycle. Female contacts depend on the springiness of the metal to maintain contact mating pressure. Strong contact pressure will sustain a longer mating cycle.
Your connector has everything to do with the quality, dependability, and lifespan of your product. It’s not a detail you should leave for last, or make based on light internet research. Partner with a custom connector engineering agency like iCONN Systems. We guarantee quality connectors that precisely meet every application requirement, including mating connector cycle rating. We also help our customers make the best possible investment based on performance requirements, time, and budget. For more information, check out our Buyer’s Guide: How to Get the Best Connector for Your Product.