Daniel Nigg has been in the
electronics industry for 25 years. A native of Basel, Switzerland, he holds a
bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. Before joining Lumberg, Nigg was
president, European Operations, and board member at Dynisco Europe, a
manufacturer of process control products. Previously, he spent 14 years
at connector manufacturer Molex, where his career included overseas assignments
in the UK and Germany and awarding of several U.S. patents for connector systems
design. He began his career at
Plessey in London, UK and moved to the U.S. in 1977.
Interconnect design engineers are being squeezed by pressure
to cut costs while developing connector and cable systems faster than ever for
demanding new uses. Add to the mix an international market where knowing
customer needs and preferences can make or break a product.
Design News: What are the major technology
trends you are seeing in the international connector industry?
Nigg: One is OEMs continuing to outsource
to contract manufacturers. It’s estimated that today over 20% of worldwide
electronics production is outsourced. Initially developed by the computer
industry in the ‘90’s, the outsourcing practice is now being used successfully
by many industries. While the initial concept was directed towards actual
manufacturing of products, the process has since migrated to encompass lowest
cost, global scale manufacturing, and control of the entire supply chain.
Representing considerable new challenges for the engineering community the next
logical step in the process would be outsourcing of design work.
Another trend is taking more cost out of products. This is
forcing connector companies to either operate in, or have direct access to,
low-cost labor markets such as China, the Caribbean or Eastern Europe. With
rising demand for products from these low-cost regions, labor costs will
eventually and gradually rise (as happened with Mexico) and create a renewed
demand for yet another, lower cost area for manufacturing – perhaps in India or
Driven by globalization and technological advances,
connector manufacturers have enjoyed annual growth for many years. Hundreds of
companies, from large public worldwide powerhouses, to small private and local
niche players, share the global connector and cable assembly markets.
Q: What factors are driving these trends?
A: “New technology” remains the key driver behind new
interconnect systems and solutions. For example, telematics—a combination of
wireless communications, GPS technology, on-board computing and entertainment
will finally re-define how we will be using our cars in the future. Adoption of
these new technologies will again spur new engineering developments in areas
such as sensing, tracking, and analysis of traffic movement and routing.
Our lifestyles will continue to be affected by broad
availability of high-speed Internet access, mobility in computing, multimedia
and our accelerating “need to stay connected.” We have already moved our office
to the home—and the car—thus creating a need for improved structured wiring in
both commercial and residential buildings. Our never- ending demand to be able
to transmit more data faster will continue to push the bandwidth envelope in
Q: What technology breakthroughs
do you see in the next five years?
A: Introduction of fuel-cell
technology for automotive and other industries in the next few years is expected
to have a profound effect on efficiency of power generation as well as on our
environment. Fuel cells can generate electricity much more efficiently than
combustion processes, and are expected to replace battery technology in many
applications, ranging from automotive to consumer products. This technology will
create new opportunities for connectors, interconnect systems, and cable
Q: What are the greatest
challenges facing interconnect design engineers and their customers?
A: Our world is getting smaller –
customers, suppliers, and service centers are global activities. Today, no
market or industry is shielded from the availability of instant information for
products and services from around the world. In this light, speed of “product to
market” remains a key driver in this highly competitive environment. Engineers
must themselves be well connected to their counter parts in other regions of the
world. A strong sense and understanding of cross-cultural differences, coupled
with regular communication, will offer a solid basis for effective design
engineering in today’s difficult environment.
Q: Are any specific design
considerations needed for interconnects that include both fiber optics and
A: We must differentiate between
board-level connectors and cable assemblies. Copper board-level connector
components are traditionally fixed to the PCB by means of a soldering process.
Depending on the physical size of the component, additional hold-down features
may be employed, such as solder tabs and mounting screws. In comparing
fiber-optic and copper connector interfaces, the copper side is far less
critical in terms of contact alignment than a fiber-optic system, where
performance is directly affected by the alignment of two mating parts.
Especially in dual-system connector designs, special consideration should also
be given to component temperature compatibility as well as the effects of
Q: What are the issues with and
prospects for Ethernet on the shop floor?
A: Today’s factory automation has
embraced Ethernet as a viable communications protocol. Although by far not the
fastest system available on the market, a shielded Ethernet system offers safe
and reliable data transmission, even in a harsh factory environment. New
communication infrastructures are being deployed that use Web-based remote
access for process control. This means more data are becoming available faster,
creating more knowledge and opportunity for analysis. The result is a better
understanding of processes overall.
Advances in wireless sensing technology
may give Ethernet a run for the money, because factory automation can represent
some of the harshest environments to which industrial connectivity components
are exposed. These include noise, temperature, humidity, dust, vibration, and
Q: What are the major
differences/similarities in industrial automation and data com/electronics
A: The biggest difference is dictated by the environment in which
interconnect systems will operate. With the need for higher speed on the factory
floor the gap is rapidly closing between industrial automation and electronic
interconnect systems. Industrial PC’s, PLCs, and smart displays are computer
systems that operate in today’s factory environments. These devices make
extensive use of existing data communications interconnect components such as
USB, IEEE 1394 and Ethernet to connect to a network. There are however
opportunities for connector companies to develop interconnect systems to meet
specific industrial application needs, such as the Lumberg family of Industrial
Ethernet connectors which were specifically designed based on the
industry-proven MICRO M12 interconnects for harsh factory