Special Feature: Connectors Eye High Density and Performance

March 31, 2024 by Jeff Child

To meet demands for higher densities, faster performance, and compliance to open standards, connector manufacturers are racing to keep pace.

In this new type of feature, throughout the year, All About Circuits will be presenting featured roundup articles looking at specific product segments. In this way, we hope to make sure to cover product segments where the technology innovation is significant, but not quite as fast as the breakneck pace in areas like ICs, semiconductors, and processors.

In this article, we look at news in connector technology, mostly from last month, including several announcements made at DesignCon 2024.


0.635 mm Pitch Edge Rate Connectors

For its part, Samtec last month added to its Edge Rate board-to-board connector family by including a higher density mated set. This new set is half the width of previous designs and offers a lower-profile 5 mm mated height (ERF6 and ERM6 Series).

According to the company, ERF6/ERM6 Series Edge Rate connectors support 56 Gbps PAM4 high-speed, rugged mezzanine applications. These comprise industrial, embedded vision, instrumentation and monitoring, drones, and robotics.

The new Samtec ERF6 and ERM6 connectors (left). Samtec’s booth at February’s DesignCon 2024 event (right).

The new Samtec ERF6 and ERM6 connectors (left). Samtec’s booth at February’s DesignCon 2024 event (right). (Click image to enlarge)

The ERF6 and ERM6 connectors sport two rows of pins while maintaining an extremely narrow body width of 2.5 mm. They come in body lengths of 11 mm to 42.8 mm with a 0.635 mm centerline. The available positions for each row are 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60. That enables customization of products, while still allowing for quick delivery, says Samtec.

Even with a very low profile of 5 mm, the connectors still allow 0.90 mm of nominal contact wipe for a reliable connection. To ensure connectors are consistently aligned properly, polarizing features are molded into the connector body. As represented in the Product Spec Sheet, ERF6 and ERM6 products allow for angular and linear misalignment.

In order to secure the two mating mezzanine cards, board stacking standoffs are available through Samtec. The company says its ERF6 and ERM6 Series products are available direct or through distribution.


Compact Floating Board-to-Board Connector

February also saw the release of the DW11 Series from Japan Aviation Electronics Industry (JAE). The DW11 is a compact floating board-to-board connector with a power supply rated current of 20 A DC and voltage of 250 V DC. 

The trend driving the need for this product has to do with the amount of data required to be handled by various equipment and devices, which is constantly increasing. Meanwhile, the boards used require a large power supply in order to process this data at high speeds.

JAE’s new DW11 connectors (left). JAE’s booth at DesignCon 2024 (right).

JAE’s new DW11 connectors (left). JAE’s booth at DesignCon 2024 (right).


With all that in mind, JAE says that, oftentimes, when connecting two connector mounted boards the proper mating surfaces are not visible, requiring a floating mechanism within the connector that can absorb positional misalignment between boards.

The DW11 connector series was designed to meet those needs. According to the company, this connector series will float ±0.8 mm in the X and Y directions to compensate for misalignment during the automated mating process.

The DW11 Series connectors are well suited for a wide range of board-to-board power supply applications in communications infrastructure equipment, ICT equipment, industrial equipment, measurement equipment, broadcasting equipment, and other equipment and devices.


VITA 87 High Density Circular MT Connectors

Also unveiled last month in February, TE Connectivity (TE) launched its new VITA 87 High Density Circular MT Connectors. This new product line provides 12 to 24 fiber options, housing up to 96 fibers within a compact size 15 shell with 4 MTs. According to TE, this is a significant contrast to the J4 interconnect in SOSA open systems architecture, which fits just 11 fibers in a larger size 19 shell.

This increased fiber count within a smaller footprint adhering to standard dimensions means that TE’s VITA 87 standard product is able to meet stringent size, weight and power requirements. At the same time, the connectors can support the high bandwidth needs of emerging data-intensive capabilities, according to TE.

TE Connectivity’s new VITA 87 high density circular MT connectors (left). TE’s booth at DesignCon 2024 (right).

TE Connectivity’s new VITA 87 high density circular MT connectors (left). TE’s booth at DesignCon 2024 (right).


The new product line is compliant with the VITA 87 and the SOSA Technical Standards. The new connectors are available in both physical contact and lensed versions. TE’s says their versatility extends from MIL fiber optics cable assemblies to optical add-on and option cards, as well as to a range of ruggedized uses involving the MIL-STD 38999 interface.


Ept Connector Selected for Use in ModBlox7 Spec

While standards from VITA, as discussed above, focus on the military and aerospace market, VITA’s counterpart in the industrial realm is PICMG (the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group). In late February, PICMG announced that it has ratified the ModBlox7 base specification. 

PICMG says the specification addresses industry’s need for modular and interoperable embedded box PCs by defining a flexible mechanical architecture and “units” that fit a 1.4-inch horizontal pitch (7 HP) form factor.

The ModBlox7 architecture is said to remove expensive components like backplanes and shelf controllers to enable the creation of price-competitive systems even at low volumes. Up to 12 of the 7 HP units can be interconnected and mounted on walls, DIN rails, or inserted in a 19” sub-rack.


Ept’s Zero8 connector approved for use in ModBlox7 spec (left). Joshua Jacobi at Ept’s booth at DesignCon 2024 (right).

Ept’s Zero8 connector approved for use in ModBlox7 spec (left). Joshua Jacobi at Ept’s booth at DesignCon 2024 (right).


For its part, Ept has announced that its Zero8 connector has been selected for use in ModBlox7 spec. According to the company, the operating conditions of the ModBlox7 box PCs required that it be a high speed connector in SMT. Such a connector is characterized not only by enormous robustness during installation, but also by high tolerances in operation and highest resistance to adverse environmental conditions.

For some applications it may be necessary to provide reliability through redundancy by means of a further connector. That means it must also be possible to use several connectors simultaneously on a single printed circuit board. This requires a high degree of compensation offset during mating as well as tolerances during operation.

With all that in mind, Ept says that the PICMG working group for the ModBlox7 specification determined the Zero8 from Ept to be a connector suitable for the diverse requirements. The SMT connector with an 0.8 mm pitch comes from a large product family with different types, heights, and pin numbers as well as with optional EMC shielding.

The ModBlox7 specification uses the angled, 80-pin version, which enables adjacent units to use a horizontal PCB connection. The simultaneous use of two Zero8 connectors is also permitted in accordance with the specification to provide redundancy and ensure reliability.

Ept says this is enabled by an offset compensation of 0.4 mm during installation and tolerances during operation of 0.7 mm. If it were not the case, the modules could be damaged when being connected. Another advantage of the Zero8 is the possibility of simultaneous transmission of high currents and high speed signals.


Durable RJ45 Circular Waterproof Connectors

Earlier this year, Attend rolled out its 222A-03 Series of RJ45 8P8C circular waterproof connectors. The company says the products are engineered for high performance and durability, and are well suited for a range of demanding environments, including LED displays, outdoor lighting, industrial, military, marine, and IoT.

Attend’s 222A-03 series connectors (left). Jamie Coreano at Attend’s booth at DesignCon 2024 (right).

Attend’s 222A-03 series connectors (left). Jamie Coreano at Attend’s booth at DesignCon 2024 (right).

The 222A-03 series connectors encapsulate electronic components within a compact, yet robust, plastic or metal housing. This design ensures a sealed connection, protecting against environmental factors. Attend says that the connectors have achieved an IPX7 rating for waterproofing, guaranteeing the safe and uninterrupted transmission of digital information and power under harsh conditions.

The connectors offer a current rating of 1.5 A for PCB/adapter types and 2.0 A for straight PCB types. Meanwhile, their voltage rating is 125 V for PCB/adapter types and 250 V for straight PCB types, both AC/DC compatible. Waterproof level is certified at IPX7, offering exceptional resistance to water. Corrosion resistance includes high endurance against salt mist, sterilization, and chemicals. And, operating temperature is rated at functional within a range of -40°C to +85°C.


Molex Offers OCP-Compliant Connectivity Solution

In other significant connector news, last Fall Molex introduced its KickStart Connector System. The product is an Open Compute Project (OCP)-compliant solution that combines low-speed and high-speed signals, as well as power circuits, into a single cable assembly.

According to the company, this complete system eliminates the need for multiple components, optimizes space and accelerates upgrades by offering server and device manufacturers a flexible, standardized and easy-to-implement approach for boot-drive peripheral connections.

KickStart is an integrated signal and power system. It is a standardized Small Form Factor (SFF) TA-1036 cable assembly that complies with OCP’s Data Center Modular Hardware System (DC-MHS) specification. Developed in collaboration with members of OCP, KickStart is recommended in OCP’s M-PIC specification for cable-optimized, boot-peripheral connectors, says Molex.


Support for PCI Express Gen 5 Signal Speeds

The system accommodates PCIe Gen 5 signal speeds, with data transfer rates up to 32 Gbps NRZ. Planned support for PCIe Gen 6 will meet demands for ever-increasing bandwidth requirements. KickStart is aligned with the form factor and robust mechanical structure of Molex’s OCP-recommended NearStack PCIe Connector System.

That system is said to offer the lowest mated profile height of 11.10 mm for improved space optimization, increased airflow management and reduced interference with other components. 

The new connector system also allows for simple, hybrid cable assembly pinout from KickStart connectors to Sliver 1C for Enterprise and Data Center Standard Form Factor (EDSFF) hard-drive docking. Support for hybrid cables further simplifies integration with servers, storage and other peripheral devices while easing hardware upgrades and modularization strategies.  


Tricky Balance of Performance, Density, and Standards Demands

As these advancements discussed here show, the connector industry is constantly innovating its technology and products. It’s a tricky design balance—meeting new high speed signal speeds like PCI Express 5 and beyond, while at the same time meeting high density connection requirements.

On top of all that, connector development often includes compliance with a range of open standards from VITA, PICMG, OCP, and others. But it's clear that these leading connector manufacturers are up to the task, and we expect even more exciting innovations throughout 2024.