Electrical mating connectors consist of two pairing halves — a male end and a female end. As the joint responsible for transferring the flow of energy, achieving a secure and reliable connection between these two halves is mission-critical. However, the cross-section between any two components also represents a point of vulnerability. Here are the most common issues you’ll find with mating connectors.
1. Pin Configuration and Misalignment
One of the most common connector pairing styles is pin and socket, wherein metal contact pins on the male connector end match up with the same number, pitch, and configuration of sockets on the female connector end. Because female contacts are recessed (inside a socket), they tend to be well-protected. Male pins, on the other hand, are more exposed and susceptible to damage. If pins and sockets do not align due to improper configuration or force of use, pins can become bent, which will prevent them from mating with corresponding contacts.
Another common issue found in mating connectors is the build-up of grime or corrosion due to exposure to moisture and debris. When contacts become soiled or oxidized, the layer of build-up decreases conductivity, which can result in signal or power inconsistencies, or total cable failure.
3. Overmolding Damage
Electrical connections are fragile by nature, even when mounted to a board or cable. For this reason, manufacturers build added strength into the connector using overmolding to disperse the forces acting on the electrical joint and protect internal components from external factors. Overmolding is an injection molding process that permanently combines two elements into a single part — in this case, a connector and cable. The mechanical performance of overmolded connectors can be customized depending on the demands of the application. However, if vibration, shock, or sustained bending exceeds the capabilities of the overmolding material, or if the outer shell is exposed to extreme temperatures, it can become damaged, resulting in intermittent or open connections.
4. Mating Cycle Issues
Connector contacts are metal parts that touch to form the electrical connection. The “high point” is known as the point where connectors touch to transfer energy. Depending on the mating style, the mechanism that creates this high point can wear out over time. Mating cycles refer to the number of times a connector can be mated and unmated before it wears out. For example, a USB connector for an iPhone charger should have a mating cycle in the tens of thousands, while a board-to-board connector found inside the device may only be manufactured to handle a dozen mating cycles. If the mating cycle doesn’t match the demands of the application, the mechanical properties that allow connector ends to form a high point or secure bond will eventually fail. This is why engineers stress the importance of choosing the right mating force.
Mating force is a calculation that determines the number of times a connector can be connected or unconnected. If this calculation is incorrect, it can become a contributing factor to all of the above. The best way to avoid mating connector issues is to work with a manufacturing partner that can either assist in selecting the right solution for your application or custom-develop a solution to meet your needs.