Like many types of electronics, medical diagnostic devices are appearing in ever-smaller form factors, and are increasingly relying on wireless communications. From sophisticated instruments for the medical community, to personal health monitors for consumers, these devices are becoming a lot more like our mobile phones.
That’s good news if you design medical electronics. You have an opportunity to avoid costly design mistakes, and get products to market faster by embracing technologies that have a proven track record in mobile phone applications.
Fine-pitch connectors are one such technology.
You might believe that all fine-pitch, low-profile connectors are created equal, but they’re not. Even if they have similar datasheet specs related to package size and pitch, these connectors differ in subtle ways that can affect their reliability during the assembly process and in use.
Here are the key technical factors to consider when looking for a reliable connector for use in mobile or other handheld medical devices:
Tolerates mechanical forces. The board-to-board, and board-to-FPC (flexible printed circuit) connections within mobile medical devices have to withstand substantial forces -- from insertion forces during assembly, to shock and vibration forces in use. A robust contact geometry is the first line of defense against these forces.
Contains the solder. The low-profile connectors used in mobile devices are susceptible to damage from solder rise. The best connectors will provide an integrated nickel barrier to keep the solder in its place.
Resists corrosion. Corrosive gases generated during the assembly process can damage connectors, ultimately shortening their life. Look for connectors with an anti-corrosion surface treatment.
Stays in alignment. Co-planarity of the connector pins may not be the most obvious product selection factor, but it directly affects insertion force and the connector’s ability to withstand repeated insertions. Look for connectors with the best co-planarity specs.
— Jane N. Awittor is a product engineer for Panasonic Electric Works Corporation of America. She’s an electrical engineer with five years of experience specializing in passive IR (PIR), IR arrays, and pressure sensors.
As you mentioned, one of the biggest factors we look for is ruggedness and the ability of the connector to withstand insertion forces without breakage. Recently, we switched from a surface mount connector to a through hole connector in order to improve durability in the field.
Jane, to my best knowledge most of the device manufacturing companies are just like a system integrator. They had outsourced all the major component development and manufacturing to third party vendors and finally they will assembly/integrated all such components under their case (outer covering) with brand name.
This is a nice list of technical issues that should be considered. Datasheets are usually accurate, but many companies publish data in a way that presents their product in the best possible light. Knowing what to look for beforehand is an important part of choosing the right connector.
Connectors and harnesses are big business. However, I would like to see some standardization in the medical industry. I worked for a company making some medical products. They literally said that they made a proprietary connector so the industry would have to buy more from them at high prices.
I was disappointed at their attitude towards their life saving devices. I didn't stay there for that and other reasons. Since then, I have been a big fan of standardization and open source.
Jane, isn't it amazing that something so prosaic as a connector becomes important? It is especially true in high reliability environments. Whenever I see a site or magazine geared toward the military and aerospace markets, I see lots of ads for connectors. These are essentially the same ads that have been running for many years, but the importance is still there.
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