Current rating is defined as the measure of the amount of current, usually in amps, that can be passed through a mated terminal. It is paramount that your connector’s current rating corresponds with the current-carrying capabilities of the individual terminals being connected. It is worth noting that the current rating is based on the assumption that all circuits of the housing are carrying the rated maximum current. More than that, it assumes that the maximum wire gauge for that connector family is utilized.
Connector Size and Circuit Density
The size of your connector is driven by the need to reduce equipment footprint without losing current capacity. Furthermore, the space your electrical terminals and connectors will require is critical. For instance, connections in vehicles, trucks, and mobile equipment are designed to fit in small compartments where space is limited.
Meanwhile, circuit density is the measure of the number of circuits an electrical connector can accommodate per square inch. With high circuit density, the need for multiple connectors is eliminated, allowing you to maximize space and efficiency. In some applications, you may benefit from a 2- or 3-circuit connector for their simplicity and ease of identification. However, with high circuit density, there is a potential loss in current rating as a result of the amount of heat generated by multiple terminals within the housing.
Housing and Terminal Materials and Platings
A majority of electrical connectors are made from a nylon plastic with flammability ratings of UL94V-2 to 94V-0. For most applications, the 94V-2 material is sufficient. Standard terminal plating is usually made from tin/lead and gold. Tin and tin/lead are best for applications where currents surpass 0.5A per circuit. Gold-plated terminals, on the other hand, are generally suited for in-signal or low-current harsh environment applications.
In terms of terminal base materials, brass or phosphor bronze serve as standard choices. While brass is more common and provides increased strength and current-carrying capabilities, phosphor bronze is better-suited where lower engagement forces are needed, higher engagement/disengagement cycles are likely, or where prolonged exposure to high ambient temperature are probable. Engagement forces refer to the effort necessitated to connect, mate, or engage the two populated electrical connector halves.
Housing Lock Type
Connectors are equipped with a positive or passive type of locking mechanism. Making a choice is based on the degree of stress that the mated electrical connectors will be subjected to. For context, a positive lock requires the operator to deactivate a locking device before the connector halves can be separated. In contrast, a passive locking system enables the connector halves to disengage by simply pulling the two halves apart with moderate force.
While most electrical connectors accommodate automotive wire gauges of 16 to 22 AWG, your choice should be based on whether the required current rating is near the maximum for the chosen connector family or if mechanical strength in the wire is needed.
It is worth noting that most automotive DC applications range from 12 to 48 volts, whereas AC applications range from 600 to 1000 volts.
Agency Approvals or Listings
Most connectors are required to meet the regulations of UL, Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), and CSA agencies. Ingress protection (IP) ratings and salt spray tests are generally great indicators of the connector’s resistance to moisture and contaminants.
The environment where your equipment will be utilized or stored is important to consider when making an electrical terminal or connector choice. A sealed connector system, for example, is better for environments exposed to fluctuating temperatures, moisture or debris, and other stressors.
Strain relief provides an added degree of protection for the connector system, ensuring that the wires do not bend where they meet the terminals.
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