Electrification, automation, and connectivity across systems and command centers are changing the types of connectors that are used in many transportation vehicles.
By Aditya Sharma, Business Development Manager, North America, PEI-Genesis transportation
Rapid innovation in the heavy transportation market is driving demand for an array of new product- and service-based responses from specialized connector distributors. Equipment used in farming, construction, and other off-road transportation vehicles requires connectors and cables that can reliably withstand harsh environments, heavy-duty cycles, and immense amounts of shock and vibration. Three areas will see significant impacts from new technologies.
1. Hybrid and Electric Engines Become More Prevalent
Growing concern about the environmental impact of fossil fuels, coupled with advances in battery and electric drivetrain technologies, have increased demand for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and fully electric vehicles (EVs) in the consumer, commercial, transportation, and industrial sectors. Construction vehicles, commercial trucks, buses, agricultural vehicles, and warehouse and factory vehicles are increasingly available in electric versions. This market segment challenges connector suppliers to satisfy several unique application requirements and industry standards.
A single hybrid vehicle can require more than 100 different connectors to connect battery packs, power distribution units, motor control units, chargers, and motors with reliable power, signal, and data. For example, battery management systems require rugged and reliable interconnect solutions that can safely handle higher current and battery packs require robust connectors with reliable positive-locking mechanisms.
Conventional automobiles typically rely on a 12V battery with a 30A current rating to power various systems, while hybrid and electric vehicles can require up to 1,000VDC with current ratings of up to 400A. As such, conventional power connector solutions are not compatible with hybrid and electric vehicle designs. In addition to higher voltage and current handling capabilities, HEV connectors must provide rugged resistance to harsh-environment conditions including extreme heat, shock, vibration, and exposure to water, dust, dirt, sand, oil, and chemicals. Connectors for EV and HEV applications must meet stringent size and weight requirements to help reduce the overall significant electronics content in each vehicle. Connector designs have evolved to provide secure, durable solutions with increased functionality in ever smaller and lighter packages.
In addition to meeting challenging ruggedness, reliability, and size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements, EV connectors need to be easy to service and safe to disconnect, enable measurement and control capabilities, maximize battery performance, and help reduce both battery space and the overall weight of EV systems. Satisfying these various challenges requires a systems-level approach, meaning that engineers not only need to know how much current is passing through the application at any given moment but also that its cabling can support peak performance without compromise. Cables, like connectors, are also available in a variety of different design and configuration options, which adds yet another challenge to EV specification processes, but are critical connectivity components worthy of equally careful consideration and can even help improve overall system reliability with the addition of accessories like protective sleeving or conduit.
2. Smart Factories Connect Machinery, Small Vehicles, and Data
Today’s factories are highly automated and increasingly dependent on processes and equipment capable of fast, fail-safe data exchange, preemptive monitoring, reliable internet connections, and even cloud computing for increased efficiency and control. The optimization of these connected systems is extremely beneficial with regard to safety controls, efficiency, cost savings, fault detections, and much more.
In smart factories, machinery, small vehicles, and associated electronics systems communicate and cooperate over the Internet of Things (IoT) to establish where a product is at every stage of the process, and anticipate and pinpoint potential problems, and perform preemptive maintenance to reduce equipment downtime. Factory automation demands smart remote I/O interfaces because most of the installation and repair work is done in the field. To keep up with innovation in this sector, interconnect system suppliers need to be ready with solutions that offer increasingly smart remote I/O interfaces, high-speed data transfer, tool-less termination systems, and automatic track-and-trace radio frequency communication.
Another trend is the emphasis on space constrictions. Components now need to deliver maximum performance in a minimal space, so the demand for compact and lighter interconnect solutions is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, these same solutions must also offer rugged and robust designs that can reliably perform under conditions including severe vibrations and exposure to harsh chemicals and wide temperature ranges. For this reason, hybrid connectors that offer both power and signal are becoming a must-have, all-in-one solution for space savings and ease of maintenance and repairability.
3. High-Tech Farming Evolution
Like smart factories, today’s smart farms rely on highly interconnected, predictive, and responsive automated systems to drive precision, efficiency, yield, and sustainability. Farming 4.0 equipment is often driverless and equipped with various sensor arrays that support autonomous navigation and both test and transmit important field and crop metrics critical to the success of a yield. This kind of precision farming achieves maximum yield from every square meter of land, which is especially vital in light of the fact that the world’s population keeps growing and food demand is already at an all-time high.
Ruggedized, high-reliability interconnect systems deliver power to the vehicle or device and transfer data from the sensors to a command center and back to the equipment in real-time. Smart farming equipment must monitor variables, transmit and analyze data, make optimal decisions, and effectively carry out tasks on the spot. Because of this, the connectors and sensors in these types of transportation systems generally have to withstand higher power levels, which requires more ruggedized designs.
Ruggedized interconnect systems also help ensure that these systems can reliably withstand harsh-environment conditions including high vibration, temperature extremes, and exposure to dust, moisture, ultraviolet radiation, and chemicals that could corrode plastics and metal plating materials. Smart farming equipment like tractors and front loaders are designed to withstand wear and tear, so their connectors and cable assemblies must follow suit. Sealed connector and cable assembly solutions made with durable materials and robust designs are essential for smart farming equipment designed to operate in outdoor areas, handle heavy loads, and carry out extreme tasks. They must be able to reliably withstand a wide range of mechanical stresses, on top of any type of weather conditions to ensure proper connectivity.
Growing Solutions for a Growing Industry
Connectivity solutions that can accommodate the high-power, high-reliability, and ruggedization demands of advanced automation and transportation solutions facilitate the secure, real-time transfer of the power, signal, and data these innovative systems rely on. Global trends toward increased interconnectivity and the adoption of Industry 4.0 are transforming automation and transportation technologies, increasing competitive pressure to achieve operational efficiency, and actively fueling innovation and growth in the connector market.