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Micro Fasteners Adapt to New Electronics Design Requirements

Micro Fasteners Adapt to New Electronics Design Requirements

The trend toward smaller, lighter and thinner designs over the years has presented particular challenges for fastener manufacturers. Hardware must fit extremely restrictive design envelopes, parts counts must often be reduced, all while reliable performance in service remains essential. This reality is particularly evident in compact electronic devices, such as cell phones and tablet computers, where the specified hardware to attach components ultimately must help - and not hinder various design and function objectives.

One solution available to designers to address these smaller, lighter, thinner design trends is threaded micro screws. Designers now can select from a variety of micro-screw materials, head styles, and driver types to satisfy and advance application objectives. Threaded micro screws often serve as standard hardware in many applications where size and space matter.

But micro screws were just the beginning of the trend toward extremely small fasteners. A new generation of self-clinching micro fasteners (some threaded and some not) has been introduced offering performance, production, and serviceability advantages.

Clinching Fasteners

Clinch fasteners become permanently retained in thin metal sheets via a displacer and an undercut in their design. When the fastener is pressed into a properly sized hole, metal from the edge of the hole is forced by the displacer to flow into the undercut around the circumference of the part beneath the fastener's head. The fastener is then securely locked in place and will not loosen or fall out.

Among other benefits, self-clinching fasteners of all sizes install permanently where designed to do so and can reduce the amount of hardware required since only a mating part is required for final component attachment. This fact can also help streamline the production process.

Micro Fasteners Adapt to New Electronics Design Requirements

Examples of newly developed micro versions of clinching fasteners include threaded self-clinching micro standoffs to space internal components; non-threaded self-clinching micro locating pins creating posts or pilots for locating, positioning, and/or alignment; and threaded micro metal inserts, which can be considered similar in benefits to clinch fasteners since they all install permanently into plastic host panels.

Not Just Miniature

The specialty design and engineering behind micro fasteners underscores that they are not simply scaled-down versions of their larger counterparts. As fastener types are downsized to lengths as short as 2 mm, thread sizes as small as M1.0, and diameters of 1mm, issues relating to tight tolerances and performance values become magnified. Unique features engineered into the fastener become critical.

For example, self-clinching micro tack pins can enable permanent attachment of two panels for such applications as anchoring internal divider plates. In addition to this fastener's displacer and undercut (which are characteristics designed into every self-clinching fastener), clinch tack pins incorporate a tapered point and tangential interference band. These work together both to guide the part into the small-diameter and shallow hole in the panel and create a slight interference fit between the hole and the fastener at the interference band. This creates minimal stresses in the host sheet and absorbs any tolerance between the diameter of the hole and the diameter of the clinching pin.

Micro Fastener Future

Looking ahead at the evolution of micro fastener technology, more types can be expected on the horizon offering capabilities and functions that can contribute to extended and expanded application potential. Some will deliver production economies, too, as demonstrated by the forthcoming surface-mount fasteners.

Surface mount fastening eliminates the need to manually place the hardware on a populated printed circuit board. Instead, the hardware supplied on tape and reel is positioned while a board is being processed and then installed with the other electronic components using conventional surface mounting equipment. Quality issues related to board cracking and misalignment are expected disappear with the use of this new fastener, since the hardware installs automatically with the same pick-and-place robotic equipment used for a board's electronic components. In addition, because the fasteners are packaged on tape and reel, different parts will not inadvertently get mixed in.

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