Seven Things to Know Before Choosing a Connector

With a seemingly infinite selection of electrical connectors at your disposal, the process of finding the right one can be daunting. Differentiating between circular, header, and PCB receptacles, or power connectors, RF connectors, and more, can quickly become overwhelming. To help expedite the process, here are seven questions you should ask yourself when searching for a connector.

  1. What are the electrical requirements for connectors?

The first place to start narrowing down your options is with the electrical requirements. How many signals do you have? What voltages, frequencies, and currents do they carry? There are many questions you can ask to determine the electrical requirements. The signals can be analog digital, power, or a combination of all three. Furthermore, digital and analog signals can be either low or high frequency. The combination of signals will often affect the connector type. For example, high frequency signals may couple into adjacent wires in a harness and require a coaxial connection. Low-level analog signals could require shielding, and high current paths may necessitate larger wires or multiple pins.

  1. Are there size or space constraints?

In the recent decades, the electronics industry has continued to trend toward size reduction in virtually every category of electronic equipment. Computers, for instance, have gone from towers to laptops to tablets to single board computers and wearables. As electronic components have shrunk, so too have the connectors that link them. Despite this, their need to be able to withstand more frequent mating and unmating has increased.

  1. Will the connector be operating in a harsh environment?

Connectors are sometimes subject to extreme mechanical conditions including shock and vibration. Connectors designed for these conditions will often include features like threaded couplings that cannot vibrate loose or strain relief to support the wiring harness. Ratings for shock and vibration will often be clearly listed at the top of the data sheet, especially if the given connector is specifically suited to harsh conditions. Another environmental concern is temperature. For example, if your connector is near a heat source, you should use one with special materials and insulators to protect the connector and contacts, enabling it to be reliably mated and unmated.

  1. Is sealing from water, oil, or gas necessary?

Your connector may be installed in an environment that requires protection from liquids or dust. The simplest sealing options start with a basic protective boot and boot adapter, which is helpful against small, occasional splashes. The next level of protection involves sealing the connector itself. If your intended application requires environmental sealing, the IP code system rates connectors by the extent of protection the seal offers from dust and water intrusion. Once you determine the level of protection that is required, you can check the IP rating to see if the connector is up to the task.

Many industries require special protection against more than just accidental liquid exposure. For instance, medical and food applications must withstand common sterilization procedures involving high temperatures and high pressure water. Under-hood automotive applications must be proofed against steam cleaning and road hazards such as water, solvents, or salt spray. The harshest environments, namely space, aerospace, or underwater, may call for hermetic sealing.

  1. What industry standards, if any, must the connector meet?

Many industries implement their own unique standards that original equipment manufacturers must adhere to. While these standards may not apply to connectors specifically, they apply to the equipment that the connector system is a part of. The FDA sets standards for medical equipment, the SAE sets automotive standards, and so one. Furthermore, defense products must adhere to MIL standards. Not only do these standards refer to performance and reliability, but also stringent qualification and manufacturing standards.

  1. What mating cycles will the connector be used in?

Connector usage can range from one-time use to more than 10,000 cycles, and sometimes both will coexist in the same system. For example, a patient sensor wiring harness may come pre-assembled from the manufacturer with a connector intended for one-time use, whereas its mating receptacle on the diagnostic equipment may be rated for thousands of cycles. Adversely,  in automotive applications, the connectors may stay mated together for the life of the vehicle.

Some connectors will list a specific MTBF or MTTF (Mean Time Before Failure or Mean Time To Failure) which provides an estimate for the product’s lifespan under standard conditions. The MTBF can also be used as a guide to determine if the connector is right for your application. If the connector cable will be used on a door or armature that will require daily bending of the cable, be sure to check the recommended maximum bend radius of the cable and whether or not it works with a high flex cable option.

  1. What kinds of terminations are required?

Terminations are used to join the connector pin or socket to its appropriate conductor whether it’s a wire, PCB trace or anything else. There are several different terminal types available, including crimped, soldered, press-fit (such as in a ribbon connector) or even wire-wrap connections. Like anything, each one comes with distinct advantages and disadvantages. For example, crimped connections are easier to repair in the field than others. Ultimately, termination selection typically depends on your design and application as a whole.

Once you have asked yourselves these questions, the process of finding the right connector should be a lot easier. The last step is to decide where to get your connector from. For top quality-electronic connectors and much more, look no further than Paragon Purchasing.

Paragon Purchasing provides all types of automotive connectors, aircraft connectors, aviation connectors, and much more for a wide range of military and civilian applications. Owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, we can help you find all types of unique parts for the aerospace, civil aviation, and defense industries. Our dedicated account managers are standing by and ready to help you find all the parts and equipment you need, 24/7-365. For a quick and competitive quote, email us at or call us at +1-714-705-4780.


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