Electronic Design

Connector Makers Woo Pitch, Push Power, Get Down To Basics

In the technology game, the song remains the same. Get smaller, deliver more power, or trim power—and get it all to market as fast and as reliably as possible. And the connector sector sets the rhythm for that tune.

Break out the Magnifying Glass
“You can’t see anything anymore,” says Mike Fedde, general manager of semiconductor test-socket maker Ironwood Electronics, describing the ever-shrinking pitch size of semiconductors. Fedde also says there will be a big push in the coming year to achieve a 0.3-mm pitch, a significant reduction from the current 0.5-mm norm.

The consensus is that achieving this level of miniaturization isn’t particularly easy given the number of associated concerns, like contact resistance and inter-pin capacitance and inductance. However, the prime challenge is working with those involved with the manufacturing process. You can make the world’s smallest chip with the highest level of integration, but if you can’t pick, place, and solder it in high volume, you have a big problem. That’s why side-by-side collaboration with the manufacturers must be an essential part of your battle plan.

Bandwidth, always assumed to be getting wider and faster, seems to have settled for a while. According to Fedde, the current peak is 40 GHz in the socket arena and will likely remain there for at least two years. The company recently released a quad flat no-lead (QFN) socket supporting 0.5-mm STATSChipPAC packages, which it believes will be viable through 2008 (Fig. 1).

The SG-MLF-7025 socket accommodates devices with a 0.5-mm pitch and 10-mm package size. It operates at bandwidths up to 10 GHz and greater with an insertion loss of less than 1 dB. Typical contact resistance and inductance per pin is 23 mΩ and 10.15 nH, respectively, and typical capacitance to ground is 0.10 pF.

Brian Krause, vice president of marketing and communications at Molex, also reinforces the 2008 game plan for lower pitch ratios. Citing the cell-phone market as a prime driver for Molex, he foresees a 0.2-mm pitch for boardto- board connectors at the company. He also reiterates the need for connector designers to work closely with the manufacturing gurus in terms of being able to process end products in significant volume.

There are definitely extremes in this power-conservative market. Attendees at February’s APEC show will have a chance to see Molex’s roadmap for high-power connectors. The company also will show off its next generation of EXTreme Power connector systems.

With an eye focused on telecom and broadband markets, the EXTreme Power high-current connectors encompass components with ratings ranging from 16 A per blade (Micro- Power line) to 150 A per blade (Power-Mass line). Put them all together and the result is a custom-configurable, boardto- board connector system capable of delivering up to 350 A per inch (Fig. 2).

Giants Collaborate
Expect new compatibility between backplane-connector systems from two major players in early 2008. Molex and Tyco Electronics agreed that Tyco will manufacture, market, and sell Molex Impact backplaneconnector systems. Molex will manufacture and market Tyco’s Z-Pack TinMan backplane-connector system (Fig. 3).

The Impact system uses a broad-edge coupled design with signal densities of up to 80 differential pairs per inch and supports traditional backplane and/or mid-plane architectures. It is currently available in three-, four-, five-, and sixpair versions with a range of guidance and power options.

Tailored to conventional backplanes while boosting performance levels in orthogonal mid-plane configurations, the Z-Pack TinMan system offers three-, four-, and five-pair versions in traditional backplane, mezzanine-stacking, and co-planar configurations. Cable assembly configurations are under production.

Via this sharing of design and manufacturing expertise, both companies express a long-term commitment to rapidly delivering systems that are inter-mateable as well as electrically and mechanically interchangeable. According to Krause, the supportable lifespan for this pairing of technology and manufacturing capabilities is expected to be in the realm of three to five years.

In yet another collaboration in the backplane arena, connector moguls FCI and Amphenol recently agreed to merge and distribute several of their established product lines. The agreement calls for FCI’s ZipLine and Amphenol’s XCede and Crossbow backplane interconnect systems to have identical second sources.

According to the companies, FCI’s ZipLine connector system offers the highest density in the industry with over 80 differential pairs per linear inch on a 25-mm card pitch. Despite this level of density, the system’s packaging provides added space for signal routing and better airflow. Described as a contender for emerging OEM products, the system also includes an orthogonal connector.

Amphenol describes its XCede and Crossbow platforms as the highestperforming backplane connectors available. Via a unique and proprietary shielding technology, the systems achieve data rates in the realm of 20 Gbits/s, both as standalone connectors and in complete backplane systems. The company also claims that XCede and Crossbow are becoming the standard for next-generation backplane interconnections.

Bad Vibrations
Although we tend to focus on smaller, faster, and higher densities when it comes to connectors, not every sector is concerned with these qualities. There’s a tendency to overlook some of the basics.

Etco, which makes connectors for the automotive, home appliance, and entertainment sectors, will work on resolving vibration issues, according to sales and marketing vice president John Macaluso.

Vibration usually isn’t as big a concern for hardwired and encapsulated connectors, but it is a big deal for those connectors that need to be connected and disconnected easily, particularly in appliances like washers and dryers where the spin cycles can literally shake the house.

The company recently unveiled a UL male tab that accepts both standard quick connectors and its patented FlatSnap, a snap-in unisex connector that is highly resistant to vibration. It offers more contact area than conventional UL male tabs. Additionally, it comes in a 0.032- by 0.25-in. format that’s fabricated from a range of high-temperature alloys. Its target applications include terminal blocks, switches, printed-circuit boards, and heating elements.

Another thing to expect from Etco in 2008 is the addition of insulation to certain connectors. Macaluso said the company will unveil proprietary insulating topologies for a number of its product lines.

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