Small connectors play a key role in the design process of electronic systems for aerospace and defense equipment. Because of the harsh environments these types of equipment must operate in, connectors that are rugged and reliable are therefore critical. Omnetics Connector Corporation develops micro-miniature and nano-miniature electronic connectors and interconnect solutions for the defense and aerospace sectors. In this interview, Scott Unzen, Director of Marketing and Market Development at Omnetics, discusses current trends and future outlook of small connectors.
Tech Briefs: Electronic connectors that can function in all environmental conditions are crucial for aerospace and defense equipment. What are some of the factors equipment designers must consider when selecting a connector?
Scott Unzen: Designers are encouraged to share a list of the potential environment their applications will be exposed to. Most often, we must design for physically rugged performance in high shock and vibration experienced on surface devices such as autonomous surveillance and weapons that are controlled remotely and or in flight on UAVs and drones. These devices protect warriors from personal exposure to severe environments. Surveillance devices are exposed to radiation and chemical degradation and must be designed to resist ion penetration and breakdown of the connector and cable within the devices. Connectors designed for use on helicopter launched devices, and or included in missile seeker heads, must also continue to function well during supersonic speeds that experience high inertia.
TB: Amongst the many connectors designs out there, why are miniature and nano-miniature connectors so popular in aerospace applications?
Unzen: Size and weight of connectors for aerospace is critical for multiple reasons and is a result of changing electronics in the defense and aerospace applications. Flight and space equipment are often constrained by how much physical room is available for electronic module and how much it weighs. Fuel and lift costs are high, and reduced weight allows extended flight time in aircraft and can significantly reduce costs in rock lift-off during launch of defense satellite devices. Defense items such as aircraft cameras and surveillance devices can collect significant amounts of data and must process volumes of digital information. Constant data flow from satellites such as GPS ensure accurate position information to ground based defense systems below. Fortunately, as high-volume digitization increases, our electronics are using much lower voltages and current levels to handle the digital data. These new circuits do not require large connector pins and sockets to carry the signals. Micro- and nano-connectors can handle the digital signals very well and are in demand to serve the new digitization of defense data.
TB: How have miniature ruggedized connectors enabled the evolution of new technologies for satellite designs?
Unzen: Satellite designs have evolved rapidly in their miniaturization with digitization and low current data processing and highly effective surveillance chip designs. Miniature connectors are capable of handling the signals, they are built with space qualified materials and use strong beryllium spring pin connections to operate extensively in space orbit. Connectors of low mass using rugged material do better during any force or acceleration during use as well and leave room for additional circuits. One key element is that small connectors allow stacking many circuit boards into small SAT modules and are the key connection from circuit to circuit.
TB: What are some of the innovations Omnetics has applied to this technology?
Unzen: Innovations offered by Omnetics begin with extensive history in building rugged defense and space related connectors. As military standards are needed, Omnetics has designed and qualified to fit within that industry system for use. Quality control systems employed ensure that steps like gold plating and sealed connector assemblies pass every assembly run and batch of connectors. New designs include easy latching systems for micro- and nano-sized connectors for quick connection and disconnection on items, such as cameras on drones or power charging remote systems when they are back at the control center. Ultra-low-profile connectors and cable are leading items with the Omnetics strip and flat connectors that are frequently specified for low weight and space.
TB: Military devices are also often required to be small and lightweight. What kind of solutions does Omnetics have for portable military and high-density LIDAR range and detection systems?
Unzen: Military LIDAR and ranging devices use miniature connectors. Much of our military definition and ranging data comes from satellites. Space-mounted LIDAR systems can see and define items through forest canopies. By using multi-spectral light systems, such as infrared images overlaid on the visual or higher frequency spectrum, the command center below can identify key target images and even track them as they move. In combination with GPS data, the key image direction, rate of travel, and even possible destination can be plotted. Rugged, low weight, and small size are qualities of paramount importance. Ensuring continuous signal integrity during high shock and vibration also depends on good mounting methods that fit the space module. LIDAR connectors and cable must be exceptionally flexible as well as shielded to protect from electro-motive interference. Signal noise may escape from the LIDAR cable in both directions and nearby circuits are liable to add sparkle and image problems. LIDAR connectors on mobile ground-based devices are also mounted very tightly to the system, preventing additional shock and reducing the effect of constant vibration from higher speed surface travel.
To learn more about Omnetics Miltary and Defense connectors, visit https://www.omnetics.com/industries/military-defense