Electrical connectors temporarily link conductive paths between devices to supply power, transmit signals or control circuits. While the specifics of the connection may vary, all electrical connector types share a common purpose: to safely transfer electric currents between devices.
Whether they’re used in industrial, commercial or residential settings, electrical connections require a high level of precision and durability to ensure that the flow of electricity remains uninterrupted. This is especially true of wired electrical connectors, which are the most common type of connection in electronic equipment and devices. The following are some of the most commonly used electrical connector types and their characteristics:
Wire-to-wire connectors are a convenient way to connect individual wires without having to splice or physically join them. They also come in a variety of sizes and styles to accommodate different wire diameters and termination methods. Terminal blocks (also known as terminal strips) offer a flexible, easy-to-use method for connecting wires by stripping a small amount of insulation from the ends and then inserting them into individual ports on the terminal block. The connections are firmly held in place by internal grooves or wings. They can be easily removed if they need to be replaced or relocated.
Plug and socket connectors (also known as chassis or jack connectors) are typically made up of male pin contacts and female socket or receptacle contacts housed in a single connector body, with an insulated shell. The pins can be terminated either by crimping the end of the contact with a crimping tool or soldering to a wire. When crimping, the connector pins are compressed tightly around the wire insulation, which provides a high level of mechanical reliability and a good electrical connection. Soldering is less expensive, but it’s important to use a low melting point solder to reduce the risk of damaging the connector housing and insulation.
Other electrical connector types include DIN rail terminals, which mount on a metal frame to support multiple connectors and are used in applications such as power distribution and instrumentation. DIN rails are available in various heights and widths, as well as a variety of mounting options to meet diverse mounting requirements. Discrete connectors, such as ring and spade terminals, are another common form of wire connectors that attach directly to the end of a single wire, making them ideal for busbars and other types of fixed connections. Other types of wire-to-wire connectors include screw terminals, which are a great choice for connecting individual wires to printed circuit boards (PCBs) by soldering them on.
The lifespan of electrical connectors depends on several factors, including a corrosive environment, electrical resistance, insulation resistance and mechanical durability. The latter is defined as how many times a connector can be plugged and unplugged before its mechanical life is shortened by wear or damage. A rated mechanical life for an electrical connector is generally specified as 500 to 1000 cycles. This metric takes into account how often the connector is plugged and unplugged, as well as environmental factors such as humidity and temperature.