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Power Connectors

What is a Power Connector?

Power connectors are often taken for granted in the bigger picture of flashier, big name electronic and industrial equipment, yet they play a pivotal role in providing a separable connection between two components of an electric system. At their most basic? They ensure the continued operation of an end component or device, connecting electric equipment to the primary Alternative Current (AC) power supply, all while protecting the end user from accidental contact with energized conductors, limiting unnecessary signal distortion and  all without unnecessary signal distortion or power loss to the end component or device.

With rapid advances in technology in recent years boasting ever more compact, thing and advanced electronic equipment, the requirements on the modern power connector are only ever increasing. Resulting in a continued demand for power connectors that are all at once less visible, more reliable and affordable.

Placed under increasing stress within more hazardous environments, aging power connector technology proves a weak link in the continued, successful operation of equipment across numerous industries including robotics, automation, underwater or marine. With the advent of wireless power connectors, power connector technology has finally taken a much needed step forward in order to keep pace with the growing demands of newer equipment and devices.

Power Connector Types

Power connectors are manufactured in a variety of shapes, sizes, voltages and current ratings that vary wildly depending on their intended use. And even by national and country standards. Unlike signal connectors or slip rings that are capable of transferring multiple signal types, standard power connectors have generally been limited – or dedicated – solely to the transfer of power as opposed to other digital or data signals.

For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll first identify the two main types of power transfer types that power connectors are typically tasked with:

AC Power Connectors

AC Power Connectors carry Alternating Current (AC) and generally deliver power to everyday or consumer-level devices that you’ll likely find around your home or office such as lamps, PC’s or televisions. This wasn’t always the case, as the most notable names in the history and development of AC and DC power – Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison – spent years arguing the case for their side of the AC vs DC power debate.

DC Power Connectors

In comparison, Direct Current (DC) power connectors feature a far wider range of standardised types, each one specifically designed and produced for a given device or component. As a general rule of thumb, DC Power Connectors carry anything over 30 amperes of current, though this can differ depending on the requirements of the operating environment and the device in question. Such as electronic devices, battery packs and automotive accessories. To name just a few.

Wireless Power Connectors

The original proponent of wireless power was Nikola Tesla, who during the 1980s developed a high-tension induction coil which he used to demonstrate the transfer of wireless energy. Despite Tesla’s work, it’s only over the last decade that the technology has truly matured to the point where it offers a real, tangible benefit to real world application.

Today, both consumer devices and industrial or commercial applications face a growing need for more reliable, less visible power cables and connectors, with Wireless power transfer offering a means to deliver efficient, robust and safe power transfer free from the limitations of physical connection points for this diverse range of applications and equipment.

Wireless power connectors offer a reliable, maintenance free alternative to traditionally unreliable cables, coil cords and connectors, and are the ideal solution for transferring power to hard to reach places as well as recharging batteries, and can be designed for either AC to AC or DC to DC connection points.

How does a Wireless Power Connector work?

Wireless power connectors involve the transmission of energy from a transmitter to a receiver, via an oscillating magnetic field. To achieve this, Direct Current (DC) supplied by a power source is converted into a high frequency Alternating Current (AC) by specially designed electronics built directly into the transmitter.

This alternating current energizes a copper wire coil located in the transmitter, which generates a magnetic field. Once a second coil – the receiver – is placed within proximity of the magnetic field, the field induces an alternating current in the receiving coil.

Electronics located within the receiving device then converts the Alternating Current (AC) back into Direct Current (DC), which becomes usable power.

The advantages of Wireless Power Connectors

  • Reliability results in increased productivity, as costly stops and power breaks become a thing of the past.
  • Durability prevents downtime and costs lost to maintenance.
  • Safe connection prevents accidents and injuries.
  • Provides a waterproof and hermetically sealed connection point for challenging operating environments.
  • Zero insertion force mating.
  • Unlimited mating cycles.
  • Wide misalignment tolerance makes it ideal for “blind mating” applications.
  • Environmental sealing against abrasive particles, dust and dirt contaminants.
  • Safe disconnection under load without arcing.
  • A reliable solution for continuity of delivery and maintenance pain points.
  • Create unique competitive advantages in the design, operation and convenience of products.
  • Reduce high installation and ongoing maintenance costs.

Power Connector Applications

Power connectors continue to play a vital role in the everyday operation of countless consumer and commercial devices, equipment and application, within just about any industry. The advent of wireless power connectors has expanded this already exhaustive list that much further, as engineers start to understand the ability of wireless power to overcome the constraints of existing hard-wired or battery based applications.

The possible use cases for power connectors includes equipment used in harsh, hazardous operating environments within the industrial, automotive and forestry industries, through to underwater and marine applications where reliable, hermetically sealed power transfer is paramount.

Why Do Power Connectors / Cables Fail?

Despite the vital role they play in the everyday operation of industrial, automotive and lighting industries, power connectors are still prone to failure. To this day, it remains an accepted part of their everyday use.

While the demands being placed on this technology to perform better, for longer, and more efficiently in increasingly harsh environments has only increased over the years, the technology behind cables and connectors has remained largely stagnant over time. As a result, standard power connectors and cables that are still in use today remain a weak point in the power chain, though newer technologies like wireless power connectors are finally beginning to offer a reliable alternative that steps up to meet these modern challenges faced by numerous devices and industries new and old.

Environmental Factors

Industrial, automotive and marine equipment is often subjected to harsh, rugged and unpredictable environments day in, day out which can often lead to:

  • The formation of oxides and various other corrosive products resulting in various forms of corrosion.
  • Organic films that form over the connector and impact their operating capabilities and performance.
  • Environmental particulates including dirt, dust and plastic housing material which can often interfere with the operation.

Corrosion

Corrosion remains a very real threat to the long-term operation of standard power connectors, often impacting the performance of power connectors within tough environments where weather and atmospheric conditions can result in – and speed up the occurrence of – the corrosion process. Particularly in operational environments where sulfur and chlorine are present.

The corrosion of power connectors can have a long-lasting effect on both the contact interface itself, as well as the contact finish. Resulting in an increase in contact resistance and reduction in the contact area due to the penetration from corrosive products in the interface.

Surface Corrosion

Surface corrosion sees the formation of a corrosive film over the entirety of the contact surface, including tin oxides as well as other oxides and chlorides on palladium and palladium alloys.

Corrosion Migration

Corrosion Migration refers to the movement of corrosion from areas adjacent to the contact interface, into the contact area. These sites includes the contact area, as well as defects in the contact finish.

Corrosion Of Finish

Harsh operating environments and environmental factors don’t just pose a challenge to standard power connectors, they can also significantly impact the contact resistance. Depending on its finish. Precious metal finishes are prone to a full range of surface, migration and pore corrosion, while tin is usually more susceptible to surface corrosion.

Connector Housing Corrosion

The design, development and implementation of power connector housing plays a critical role in the protection of power contacts from harsh and unpredictable environmental factors. Acting like a shield that’s aimed at restricting access to the contact interface from the elements including wind, rain, dirt and dust.

In spite of the best efforts of manufacturers, traditional power connectors aren’t always able to effectively fight back against mother nature, as even the most reliable connector housing is still subject to weakness, failure and corrosion. The resulting housing degradation can have far-reaching effects on the reliable operation of equipment and the health of the power connector, leaving it more susceptible to corrosion and everyday wear and tear as the housing is worn away.

It’s within these operating environments where the advantages offered by wireless power connectors prove their worth, offering a completely hermetically sealed alternative to standard power connectors that ensure environmental factors are kept at bay under and any all operating conditions whether it be heat, water, or anything inbetween.

General Wear & Tear

Wear and tear is a common factor in the operation of any equipment, and power connectors are no different. Over time, connectors and cables wear with repeated use, in a process that occurs that much faster while operating in harsh and unforgiving environments where cables and connectors are placed under constant strain.

This includes – but isn’t limited to – the degradations of cable and conductor insulation as a result of constant abrasion from other cables, hoses, cable management hardware as well as environmental hazards. Placing the connector and cable under pressure through repetitive use and atmospheric conditions including extreme temperatures and low atmospheric pressure.

Further Power Connector Reading & Resources