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issue: August 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Feature-Connectors & Wire Harnesses
Compelled to Connect

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Connectors are growing in importance as products throughout the home move inexorably toward full-scale interconnectivity.

FCI’s new D-Sub Economy Range connectors address a growing number of applications where fewer mating cycles are required, such as set-top boxes, control devices, and energy meters.

Traditional appliances on the home network? Until recently, there was no compelling reason to drive mass-market adoption of such technology. This year, however, interest in smart, connected appliances grew dramatically as the Smart Grid drive moved into the spotlight. Increasingly it appears as if traditional white goods appliances and HVAC equipment will be linked to utility companies, allowing consumers to trade a degree of utility company control for lower electric rates. Internal connections, hardwired connections from appliances to home networks, and user-matable connections have now become much more important.

Anderson Power Products (Sterling, MA, U.S.; www.andersonpower.com) designed its low-profile PowerMod PSX components to be 30% smaller than comparable connectors.

The Convergence of Computers and Consumers

It’s not every day that a connector supplier wins an Emmy. Molex Inc. (Lisle, IL, U.S., www.molex.com) was awarded a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in recognition of its connector design for High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI). The award was shared by 10 companies that played roles in the development of HDMI; Molex’s role was in enabling the delivery of high-definition content to consumers through the unique electromechanical design of the HDMI connector and cable.

HDMI is now standard on millions of consumer electronic products. In fact, Molex product development and standards manager Scott Sommers characterized the company as an important force, “…behind the growing convergence of computers and consumers.”

Of course, the computers he’s referring to can be almost any digitally driven consumer product, and the list of what’s not connected in the average home keeps shrinking. The need for connection solutions such as HDMI will keep growing.

Molex’s latest sequel to its Emmy-winner is the HDMI Type D (Micro) connector, launched in the summer of 2009 to meet the electrical and mechanical specifications of the new HDMI Specification 1.4. “Type D…is designed to meet the needs of portable devices by providing these products with a fully functioning, smaller 19-pin connector,” explains Steve Venuti, president of HDMI Licensing LLC.

While the Type D (Micro) connector is about half the size of the current Type C (Mini) HDMI connector, it delivers equivalent mechanical strength and electrical characteristics. It’s a more compact connection for sending higher-definition content from mobile devices to full-size displays.

Tyco’s wire-to-board plug connectors and board-to-board connectors make for faster LED lighting application assembly.

Connection Applications

Connector applications are growing and opening potential new market niches. Connectors and interconnect solutions provider FCI (Etters, PA, U.S.; www.fci.com) sees changes in connectors being driven by higher-level trends.

“With today’s focus on miniaturization and the environment, LED applications are in the spotlight,” notes Koos Steding, FCI global product marketing manager. The company sees a need to provide adaptable and proven technology and service programs to help simplify designs that incorporate LEDs.

Tyco agrees. “As LED lighting continues to expand dramatically, manufacturers are looking at solutions to lower the costs of assembling and maintaining lighting systems,” says Alexander Hunt III, product manager at Tyco Electronics (Harrisburg, PA, U.S.; www.tycoelectronics.com).

Tyco developed new wire-to-board plug connectors and board-to-board connectors to make it faster and easier to connect aluminum-clad printed cvircuit boards, which are commonly used for LED lighting applications that include lighting controls and LED light modules. The plug connectors use tin-plated brass crimp-snap contacts for 18 to 22 AWG (0.3 to 0.9 mm2) stranded wire and a 94V-0–rated thermoplastic housing. The plug connector mates with board-mount connectors and features positive latching for a secure connection.

Suppliers are continually asked to fit connectors into less space. Canfield Connector (Youngstown, OH, U.S.; www.canfieldconnector.com) had limited space applications in mind when it developed the 5FR and 5JR solenoid valve connectors, incorporating full-wave bridge rectifiers inside fully molded connectors to convert ac to dc.

Molex calls the HDMI Type D the world’s smallest I/O connector. It’s half the size of the Type C but has equivalent mechanical strength and electrical characteristics.

Harnessing Supplier Value

Greg Wurgler, vice president of sales and marketing for Thermtrol Corp. (North Canton, OH, U.S.; www.thermtrol.com), says appliance OEMs require a “full-service portfolio” from wire harness suppliers to help them remain competitive and meet quality standards. Wurgler calls cost and efficiency the “basic points of entry.”

To be truly valuable team members, wire harness suppliers also need to deliver design support and value-added engineering. “The portfolio approach includes the full complement of testing and component qualification, both LCC and local manufacturing footprints, and tight controls throughout the value chain,” Wurgler says. “This holistic product-plus-service offering is what gets OEMs excited.”

He says the company’s ability to deliver for OEMs is based on its manufacturing capability in the United States and internationally. In fact, Thermtrol has had a manufacturing facility in Vietnam for six years to effectively serve customers from that part of the world. The firm recently invested in a new 94,000-sq-ft facility in Vietnam, increasing its manufacturing footprint in that country by 400%. It says that ongoing investment in new testing and qualification equipment allows it to quickly test its ideas and qualify component suppliers. “We can then communicate these results to our customers—reducing a cost and time barrier for them,” Wurgler says.

Wurgler says wire harnesses are almost always customized for a specific platform. “Harnesses tend to be the last system designed,” he says. “Consequently, customized harness designs come along late in the design cycle with little time left in the program timeline to consider utilizing existing harness SKUs.”

The Thermtrol harness pictured above integrates a thermister, thermostat, and defrost motor into one component, reducing OEM SKUs.

But custom designs lead to part proliferation, an issue many OEMs struggle with. “Given that wire harnesses are a cost transparent commodity item, part proliferation remains accepted in the industry,” Wurgler explains. Standardization initiatives such as RAST connection can help. Still, “It’s incumbent upon the wire harness supplier to aid OEMs…to think about how best to reduce their customer’s SKUs,” he says.

Thermtrol recently did just that. One of its OEM customers had two overmolded cables coming from different divisions and different product platforms within the same company. “In order to minimize the overall cost, we facilitated a conversation between the two separate commodity managers to design a common approach that is a win-win situation for all,” Wurgler explains. “The shared approach allows the commodity managers to lower the overall cost of each of their respective programs.”


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