OEMs are hopeful the connectors they specify for end-product designs will be reliable and trouble-free for the life of the product. Unfortunately, connector problems may arise. Ed Reynolds of APEX offers his checklist for recovery after a connector problem.
All manufacturers of devices that use connectors are hopeful that the specified connectors will be reliable and trouble-free for the life of the product. To build confidence, testing is usually done to verify and validate that the connectors are suitable for the specific application. Unfortunately, there are instances where connector problems arise. These problems may be due to a vendor quality issue or internal issues such as changes to product design and manufacturing processes, authorized deviations, misapplication of the connector, damage during assembly, or abuse during use.
The first thing to do when there is a suspected connector issue is to verify that the connector is, in fact, the problem. This requires following the connector’s life from incoming receiving through the end use.
If the connector was purchased from a distributor, as is very common, the question is who to contact after a connector problem is detected. Should you consult the distributor or the connector manufacturer? The manufacturer often sees a multitude of applications for a given connector and is exposed to common faults. They can be of great help in determining what the root cause of the problem may be.
Most reliable OEMs have plans in place if quality issues arise. ISO requires a documented procedure for corrective action. Since ISO 9001 is not product-specific, each organization must develop a procedure that is suitable to service the customer’s needs for the product. Details of what this procedure must include are as follows:
The organization shall take action to eliminate the causes of nonconformities in order to prevent recurrence. Corrective actions shall be appropriate to the effects of the nonconformities encountered.
A documented procedure shall be established to define requirements for:
- Review of nonconformities (including customer complaints)
- Determination of the cause of nonconformities
- Evaluation of the need for action to ensure that nonconformities do not recur
- Determination and implementation of action needed
- Records of the action taken
- Review of the effectiveness of the action taken
The following is a list of specific information and actions that should be included and implemented to contain and determine the root cause of a suspected connector problem while permanent corrective action is implemented:
- Assign a person to be responsible for remediation.
- Determine when the problem was first seen. Were there other changes made in-house at the same time?
- How many connectors are affected by the suspected problem and how many are not?
- Collect failed samples.
- Collect undisturbed samples including new, unapplied samples and samples that are terminated to wire or mounted on printed circuit boards.
- Collect the following manufacturer information (counterfeit connectors are now quite common, even with very low-cost connectors):
- Part number
- Date of manufacture (date codes may be on the connectors or shipping containers)
- Lot number, reel number, etc. (check shipping containers)
- Purchase order date and whom purchased from
- Shipping labels
- Inform the vendor and manufacturer ASAP. This helps the manufacturer start investigating the situation to determine if there are potential problems with inventory, parts in transit, and other customer applications.
- Provide the vendor and manufacturer with samples of the suspect connectors, manufacturer’s information, and the application details.
- Quarantine all questionable inventory.
- Examine samples with magnification.
- Photograph samples and manufacturer’s information to provide to the vendor and manufacturer.
- Document all information and communications.
- Inform the end user if applicable. This may help negate potential legal problems if safety issues develop or recalls are required. (Note the severity of recent automotive recalls.)
- Develop an internal recovery plan.
- Request a vendor corrective-action plan.
- Follow up on corrective-action plans.
- Send feedback to all involved parties.
- Document on the vendor score card.
If the connector defects are visible or can be detected by measurements, it may be possible to sort good from bad connectors to continue production. Rework of defective connectors may also be possible to continue production. Rework may be possible for defects such as bent pins, contact reeling problems, or poor solderability. Defects such as cracked housings, broken latches, and stubbing when mating generally cannot be reworked.
If the suspect connectors have been installed in an assembly, a decision must be made whether to repair the device with the suspect connectors or replace the entire assembly. This is dependent on the cost of repairs and value of the final assembly.
Usually, the question is can the connector continue to be used in the application or should a new connector and/or manufacturer be considered? If the connector has been used problem-free for quite some time, the current problem is more than likely due to a change in the connector manufacturing process or the specific application.
If the application is such that there may be need for a recall of the units shipped, a history of the connector’s usage will be required for legal and business purposes.
Ed Reynolds has more than 48 years experience with most aspects of interconnection products. He has worked on a wide range of products including switches, fiber optics, fasteners, magnet wire terminations, sockets, modular jacks, high-speed I/Os, flex circuits, MID (molded-in devices), and many surface-mount products. He has experience in the computer, peripheral, telecommunications, automotive, consumer durable, consumer electronics, motor, transformer, small appliance, and power tool industries. Reynolds was principal engineer and director of development engineering at AMP.
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