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Surprising Facts About Harsh Environment Connectors Engineers Should Know

Posted by Rick Regole on September 16, 2019 | Updated on March 11, 2020
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Most connector failures occur when a connector is not adequately designed for the environment in which it operates. Moisture seeps into the coupling and corrodes contact pins, excessive temperature damages insulation, the mating mechanism fails to complete the required number of cycles, and numerous other issues can result. When it comes to extremes, only harsh environmental connectors can survive. Here are five facts that product engineers might not know about designing these remarkably durable electrical devices.

1. No matter how sophisticated technology becomes, simple physics will always prevail.

Rugged connectors are under the constant pressure of meeting new expectations for data speed, miniaturization and durability. But the first step in designing harsh environmental connectors will forever stay the same. Before any other details can be decided, you must know the ampacity calculations for your connector. More specifically, you need to determine the right number of contacts and confirm that they can handle the power and signal strength.

2. Connectors can be customized to withstand virtually ANY condition, including:

  • Extreme temperature
  • Extreme pressure
  • Frequent flexing/friction
  • Exposure to liquids and humidity
  • Total water submersion
  • Exposure to dust
  • Resistance to fire
  • Resistance to chemicals (and other harmful substances)
  • High EMI/RFI interference
  • UV exposure

3. There are three ways for engineers to acquire high-quality harsh environmental connectors:

  1. Off-the-shelf connectors are turnkey and can be purchased online. These devices are specially designed, tested and rated to withstand distinct environmental extremes.
  2. Customized connectors are built from scratch. Engineers work with the OEM to design an interconnect solution around the unique specifications of an application.
  3. Re-engineered connectors take a product that already exists in the marketplace and improves key features to heighten performance. These connectors are often the most cost-effective way to obtain a custom product.

4. The three most important factors that determine the ruggedness of a connector are:

  1. Contact Material: Brass is the least expensive metal but the most likely to fail. Phosphor bronze is stronger, but not ideal for applications that require high mating cycles. Beryllium copper is more expensive but capable of handling mechanical and electrical extremes.
  2. Plating: Gold plating is commonly used in harsh environmental connectors because it is resistant to oxidation. Tin is popular in standard connectors but will oxidize over time, which makes it a less desirable plating for rugged connectors. However, gold-tin and tin-lead plating provide an effective and affordable middle ground.
  3. Insulating Material: Rugged connectors typically use metal casings, natural or synthetic rubber, thermoplastic or glass insulating materials that provide high reliability, even in extreme temperatures.

5. Circular connectors are best suited for harsh environmental conditions.

Unlike rectangular connectors, circular connectors feature a closed-entry female contact design and highly-secure threaded or snap-lock coupling options that can exceed IP-67 ratings and maintain a tight seal in various extreme environmental conditions.

When it comes to rugged connectors, one fact goes without saying: You get what you pay for. High-quality metals and materials are significantly more durable, which amortizes the cost of ownership over a longer span of time. iCONN Systems is a leading designer, manufacturer and distributor of connectors that will perform in the harshest environmental conditions. We also specialize in custom-designed and re-engineered solutions that address unique requirements.

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