Smaller, Faster, Smarter: Miniature Industrial Connectors

- Feb 23, 2019 -

At the 2018 Hannover Fair,Harting identified miniaturization as one of six trends defining the evolution of integrated industrial processes. The others are digitization, integration, e-mobility, modularization, and customization. Digitization is significant in the industrial space, generating growth in smart devices and moving processing power away from data highways and into the field where intelligent components, such as cameras, sensors, and actuators, use high-speed Ethernet to spread the connected network.

The combination of miniaturization and digitization in the industrial sector has resulted in an increased network of vision systems and robotics. Cameras, monitors, and sensors are integrated into smaller spaces along the production line to gather information to improve quality and reduce downtime. “Data is everything,” said Kevin Canham, product and application manager, HARTING UK. Today, as Industry 4.0 becomes more commonplace, “virtually anything” can be monitored. One example: Optical systems can be used to identify and reject parts in the factory. “The more information there is, the better to control processes.”

Industry 4.0, also known as the smart factory or the networked industrial space, does not mean that all communications are wireless and that connectors are redundant. In robotics, data is sent to the robotic head to dictate the direction, angle, and speed of movement. Connectors are needed to transfer sensor data to the cloud for analytics, and they are also used to send signals for predictive maintenance. Canham said that the means to record data has evolved into smaller options, such as a Raspberry Pi board, a field-attachable computer, or HARTING’s Modular Industry Computing Architecture (MICA) computer.

“The higher data rates lead to better — but not bigger — connectors,” says Canham. For over 30 years, the industry has relied on the RJ45 connector, but it is simply too big for today’s flat mobile devices, displays, smaller automation equipment, cameras, and vision systems. RJ45 is also not robust enough for many applications; its locking tabs can be broken easily, causing contact problems. In response, HARTING andHirose Electric have jointly developed an alternative, the iX industrial miniature Ethernet interface.

The iX is an alternative to the RJ45 interface that is synonymous with Ethernet connections. “RJ45 is established, millions of connections — iX won’t supersede it, not for five to 10 years anyway,” says Canham. However, it is plugging some of the gaps where miniaturization makes the use of RJ45 connectors problematic. The iX interface is designed to the industry standard IEC 61076-3-124, which specifies the dimensions and mechanical, electrical, and transmission characteristics for industrial connectors. It reduces the PCB jack size by 70% compared to RJ45 models. It also combines power supply and data transmission in a single interface to save valuable space and meet the increased performance demands of today’s industrial environment.