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Materials suppliers to the connector industry:
meet your customers at the world's first event of its kind.

For a number of years, the suppliers of raw materials to the connector industry (polymers, copper-based alloys and contact coatings) have been requesting a management conference similar to FCC, but specifically focused upon the effect of new connector trends and designs upon raw materials.

Nearly 100 executives from the connector industry and their suppliers assembled at the Renaissance Esmerelda Resort in Indian Wells, California September 17-18, 1998. The management conferences were attended by senior executives from the United States, Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim.

The purpose of FMC is to bring together senior design, product and material specifiers from connector manufacturers provide the forum for interchange of company views and the most up-to-date intelligence on design trends assess the impact of technological trends from the electronic systems/equipment OEM — and provide the arena for the raw material suppliers, molders, stampers, and platers to disclose the latest material and process developments available to the connector industry.

Distinguished Speakers at FMC

Addressing the first annual FMC were the following industry executives, in alphabetical order:

High Density Interconnects

The advantages of reliable high density interconnects were outlined by Berg's Thomas D. Moyer, who cited the continuing advancement of technology.

"Would you buy the same computer you did a year ago?" he asked, replying, "Probably not, since today for the same price you would get more performance, smaller size, more features, better service and better reliability."

The same logic applies to interconnects, he noted, and a key component of interconnects is materials. Therefore, the connector industry continues to need materials that are lower priced, more reliable, delivered faster and better in performance.

"For the lowest-cost terminal stamping," Moyer said, "input materials need to have predictable forming properties, no dimensional shifts, no residual stresses, minimal impact on tool wear and the ability to capably meet all dimensional and physical property requirements. Just meeting specs isn't good enough."

The trend is to higher and higher density, he pointed out, and suppliers must continue to provide materials that lower connector total applied costs. Suppliers also must continue to provide materials with improved properties and better consistency.

Future of Copper Alloys

Switzerland's Jean-Pierre Tardent spoke on the future direction of copper-based alloys for electrical and electronic applications. He noted that the development of new copper-based alloys follows two directions in terms of types of semi-products—machinable alloys and alloys for thin and narrow strip.

"Previously, the market of connectors used two categories of materials depending on the type of products," Tardent said. "Today, for low-cost connectors, the use of materials stays in the direction of brasses and bronzes—but for the other category of high-tech connectors, the market requires new materials with high performances but lower costs than previously."

In this field, essentially oriented to machined parts for coaxial connectors, he noted, the main application is telecommunication with the real explosion in the use of mobile phones. This new, very large market encourages the competition between suppliers of connectors and consequently increases the pressure on prices, forcing manufacturers of connectors to find new materials with a better price/performance ratio.

The development of new machinable copper alloys (named alloys PS2 and BO5) is now achieved with the initial purpose of filling a gap previously existing between classical, economical and low-medium strength machinable copper alloys and very high strength, but expensive, machinable beryllium copper, Tardent stated.

"Furthermore," he added, "the short-term development also is focused on thin and narrow strip of low-alloyed, high-strength, high-electrical conductivity copper alloys which also have good thermal relaxation resistance and good corrosion resistance. All of these developments of strip are previewed to be achieved in a short term of less than one year."

Copper's Importance to Connectors

"The use of copper and copper alloys strip and wire in the connector industry represents only a fraction of the total worldwide use of copper," Brush Wellman's Craig B. Harlan pointed out. "However, copper-based materials, with their combination of inherent excellent conductivity, formability and spring characteristics, make them strategic materials to the connector industry."

Harlan noted that estimates for the U.S. connector market total 8,000 tons per month (212 million pounds per year) consisting of 27% brass, 21% phosphor bronze, 16% high performance alloys, 13% beryllium copper, 5% tin brass, 5% CuNiX alloys and 13% other alloys or unknown content.

"As we move toward the year 2000, there are new challenges facing the copper-based raw materials suppliers and our relationships with the connector industry," Harlan stated. He identified the most significant as:

  • U.S. connector industry being challenged by China and other Asian connector manufacturers, causing severe price erosion.
  • Foreign competition for U.S. connector manufacturers is compounded by the strong dollar.
  • The new product development cycle has been reduced from a few years to a few months.
  • The continuing consolidation in the connector industry has increased the purchasing leverage of the bigger players.

The impact on the copper-based material suppliers is heavy price pressure resulting in reduced profits, he noted. Copper alloy producers are being pushed to provide more design support and the copper industry worldwide is forming alliances to be able to offer a global supply chain.

Harlan called for a closer working relationship between the connector industry and its strategic material suppliers.

Thin Wall Molding

The technology and advantages of thin wall molding were outlined by Dr. Byung Kim, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

Kim defined thin wall molding as that which carries a wall thickness of 0.040 inches or less and a surface area of eight inches or more with a length/thickness ratio greater than 100:1. The advantages of this process, he noted, include reduction of parts cost, portability and functionality, in addition to being the trend of a growing market.

Applications of thin wall molding, he pointed out, include cellular phones, notebook computers, electric connectors and similar electric and telecommunication components. Resin providers recommend the process for its low viscosity materials, high injection pressure, high injection rate, high injection temperature and high molding temperature.

Kim noted that the alternative approach, rapid filling, carries a number of disadvantages, including material degradation, difficulty in having delicate features, molecular orientation, residual stress and warpage, difficulty in molding ultra-thin parts and increase manufacturing cost.

Rapid thermal response (RR) molding, on the other hand, saves time and energy, the educator pointed out. RR molding improves part quality and allows slow filling of long and thin cavities, in addition to offering lower pressure.

High Heat Engineering Plastics

The use of high heat engineering in plastics was discussed by David Pomerantz, Stanyl product manager at DSM Engineering Plastics, who noted that Stanyl is the heat-resistant polyamide of DSM, an international chemicals and materials group.

Stanyl is mainly used in demanding applications in the electrical and electronics and automotive industries, Pomerantz said, but also meets many other application requirements.

"The highly symmetrical chain structure of Stanyl leads to a high degree of crystallinity and a high speed of crystallization," he declared. "These features give Stanyl a technical edge over other engineering plastics."

Stanyl's properties lead to important advantages for the customer such as cost reduction, longer lifetime and high reliability, Pomerantz told the FMC. "Stanyl is ideally suited for various components in the electrical and electronics industries," he continued. "Its main feature is its resistance against soldering heat in items such as surface-mount connectors, switches and bobbins."

Pomerantz said that Stanyl meets the requirements for various connector designs such as modular jacks, shrouded headers, power connectors, fine-pitch connectors, breakaway connectors, sub-miniature D connectors, memory-card connectors, SIMM sockets, edgecard connectors, ZIF-PGA connectors and telephone handset connectors.

Conductive Polymers for Connectors

The impact of conductive polymers on connector designs was the topic of Michael Kirkman, business unit manager for Thomas & Betts.

Kirkman identified the interconnect demands of the polymer industry as package to board, board to board and board to backplane. Drivers in the industry include processing speeds, power requirements, manufacturability, density and thermal conditions.

Comparing metal to conductive polymer, Kirkman pointed out that the advantages of metal include fine stamping, performance and power, while conductive polymer offers conductivity, flexibility and stability.

He described Metallized Particle Interconnect (MPI), a new material system developed by Thomas & Betts for high-density, high-performance interconnect conditions. The MPI material system is a high-temperature, flexible conductive polymeric interconnect solution which incorporates piercing and indenting particles.