TITLE: Low-Cost, High-Density, Harsh Environment, Miniature Electrical Connector
Battlespace, Electronics, Sensors
ACQUISITION PROGRAM: PMS 401,
Submarine Acoustic Systems Program Office.
OBJECTIVE: Develop an
innovative low-cost miniature electrical connector for towed arrays that has
high-density connections and can withstand high-pressure marine environments.
DESCRIPTION: Currently for
its towed arrays, the Navy uses high-density miniature electrical connectors
that contain 7-12 pins and meet the harsh environmental requirements inherent
in the use of towed arrays and other marine sensors. Existing Navy miniature
electrical connectors do not provide effective electrical and mechanical
isolation between individual pins over the lifecycle (~5 years) and range of
conditions experienced by towed arrays during Navy operations. While these
connectors provide adequate isolation as new assemblies, their effectiveness
quickly deteriorates due to the environmental, chemical, and mechanical forces
experienced by the connectors during their lives. Additionally, these
connectors do not provide sufficient protection against electrical contact
fretting caused by the relative motion of the mated connectors and insufficient
plating (i.e., thickness, material selection or both). The current connectors,
while relatively inexpensive to procure (~$100 per pair), are expensive to
install due to the density of connections and means afforded to affix wires to
each connector. Combined, these shortcomings lead to lower system reliability
and availability, which results in significant costs to the Navy both in terms
of forcing Navy platforms to leave their missions to replace failed towed
arrays as well as the costs associated with troubleshooting, repairing and
maintenance, and shipping costs for the failed array. Currently available
commercial technologies fail to meet the Navy’s needs on one or more of these
factors (i.e., size, cost, environmental ratings).
The Navy is seeking an innovative connector that provides a solution to the
problems of (1) degradation of mechanical isolation between pins, (2) contact
fretting from motion and insufficient plating, (3) wire density, and (4)
expensive methods of connecting wires in the connectors. The solution will
reduce total ownership cost through low up-front costs (lower than $100 per
pair); low assembly, repair, and maintenance costs; and improved reliability.
The solution will provide improved electrical isolation (greater than 1 MOhm at
500V) between individual pins (even in the event of a failed pressure seal);
improved mechanical sealing (no leakage at 2500 psi) against pressure (e.g.,
hermetic seal); improved resistance to fretting via better plating, better
prevention of relative motion, or both; and reduced cost of manufacturing
processes by at least 25%. Cost reduction will result from improved fixtures,
tooling or procedures that lower the time, skill or costs to assemble the
current connector. Separate fixtures or tools that allow for improved connector
manufacturing are acceptable solutions to the issues of ease-of-use and
affixing wires during array assembly/repair.
While individual single conductor pins are acceptable, it is desirable to have
at least one or more pins that maintain coaxial conductors through the
connector with a characteristic impedance of 50+/-2 Ohms. If such a coaxial pin
can be achieved, it would be counted as 2 conductors (2 pins) for the total
count in the connector. For example, while 7-12 coaxial pins are not desired or
required, a 1 coaxial and 5 single pins solution would be superior to the
currently available solution. The current Navy miniature electrical connector
only offers single conductor pins. Fitting a coaxial pin in this form factor,
that is also affordable to manufacture, will require innovative solutions not
currently available in the commercial or military market. This is a goal, not a
The proposed solution must meet at least the following set of conditions: (1)
The connector will be exposed to vibrations up to those described in
MIL-STD-167-1A (with requirements extended up to 50Hz) and MIL-STD-810G. (2)
The connector will be exposed to temperatures of -40.0C up to 65.0C, and must
survive without any damage or performance degradation; however, it is only
expected to properly operate over the range of -2.0C to 50.0C. (3) The
connector will be exposed to hydrostatic pressures up to 1200 psi, and must
survive without damage or allowing fluid into the interface between the
The connector is housed in the vicinity of other wires as well as components
that are vulnerable to damage due to abrasion and cutting. As such the proposed
connector must not have any sharp edges on the mated body (no features smaller
than 0.005”). Due to the limitations of available space in current Navy towed
arrays, the connector must fit within a maximum diameter of 0.635 inches and
not exceed 1.25 inches long when mated. Note that the proposed connector need
not have a circular cross-section as long as all other requirements are met.
The mated connector will be exposed to bending loads of 10 pounds when simply
supported (with 5 pounds applied at each end). The connector must not suffer
any damage or degradation due to repeated (up to 10,000 cycles) bending loads.
The wires will attach to the connector with solder cups that will support up to
20-gage wire. The connector must allow for the use of potting, such as
urethane, to seal the back end of the wires as they enter the connector.
The proposed connector must have both male and female connector types that
provide a feature to prevent misalignment when mating. Each half (male and
female) of the un-mated connector must provide an external indication of the
alignment feature such that the connector can be visually aligned by an
operator prior to attempting to mate the halves.
The pins must be capable of handling 500V at a maximum current of 3.0 amps
(goal). If desired, a separate connector design could be proposed with few pins
(minimum 3) to handle high voltage and current. In that case, the 7-12 pin
connector would be required to handle 200V and 2.0 amps (threshold). The insulation
resistance between any two pins and between the pins and case must be a minimum
of 1.0 giga-ohms when measured with a megohmmeter at 500V.
Critical design aspects of the STTR effort are: (1) development of an
innovative method to seal the mating pins against external pressures, (2)
development of a low-cost manufacturing method (at least 25% improvement), and
(3) minimization of the relative motion of the mated pieces during towed array
operations. The connector must be easy to use, have solder-ability, meet Navy
environmental performance standards described earlier in this description and
electrical properties. The environmental compatibility test of the unit will be
in accordance with MIL-STD-810G [Ref 4] and MIL-STD-167A [Ref 5]. The Government
will assess the electrical properties of the connectors using standard
processes (where available) or will develop test procedures with the company
where standard processes are not available. The Government will assess the
suitability of the connector prototype using the criteria described in the
previous paragraphs. The technology will provide innovative solutions to the
issues present in the current Navy connector (e.g., electrical isolation,
procurement cost, manufacturing cost, mechanical sealing, fretting), while also
meeting the environmental and electrical requirements of Navy towed arrays.
PHASE I: Develop a concept
for a low-cost, high-density, harsh environment, high-pressure miniature
electrical connector. Address the critical performance factors, laid out in the
Description, related to electrical isolation, procurement cost, manufacturing
cost, mechanical sealing, and fretting. Demonstrate feasibility through
analysis and modeling of the key elements (e.g., mechanical packaging model,
current carrying capacity calculations, finite element analysis, manufacturing
cost model). Develop a Phase II plan. The Phase I Option, if exercised, will
include the initial design specifications and capabilities description to build
a prototype in Phase II.
PHASE II: Deliver a prototype
for testing. Demonstrate its ability to meet the requirements described in the
Description. Deliver test results to the Government, which the Government will
verify by conducting independent functionality and environmental testing of the
connector. Prepare a Phase III development plan to transition the technology
for Navy production and potential commercial use.
PHASE III DUAL USE
APPLICATIONS: Assist the Government in transitioning the final connector design
to allow for Navy acquisition. Support installation of the connectors into a
Government prototype towed array, which will be subjected to standard array
performance and reliability testing to verify the suitability of the connector
for towed array applications. After successful verification, produce connectors
for insertion into prototype and future production towed array systems such as
This connector would prove useful in oceanographic research vehicles (manned,
unmanned or remotely operated), downhole oil drilling, oil and gas exploration,
harsh environment industries (e.g., chemical manufacturing), and oil/gas
1. Lemon, S. G.
"Towed-Array History, 1917-2003." IEEE Journal of Oceanic
Engineering, Vol. 29, No. 2, April 2004, pages 365-373. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1315726/
2. Antler, Morton. “Contact
Fretting of Electronic Connectors.” Special Issue of Electromechanical Devices
and Their Materials, Vol. E82-C, No.1, January 1999.
3. Barnes, Howard E. and
Gennari, Jervis J. “A Review of Pressure-Tolerant Electronics (PTE).” Naval
Research Lab, Washington DC, June 1976.
4. MIL-STD-810G, Department
of Defense Test Method Standard: Environmental Engineering Considerations and
5. MIL-STD-167-1A, Department
of Defense Test Method Standard: Mechanical Vibrations of Shipboard Equipment.
KEYWORDS: High Density; Low
Cost Electrical Connector; Towed Array; Miniature Electrical Connector; Coaxial
Conductors; Electrical Contact Fretting; Degradation of Mechanical Isolation
** TOPIC NOTICE **
These Navy Topics are part of the overall DoD 2019.A STTR BAA. The DoD issued its 2019.1 BAA STTR pre-release on November 28, 2018, which opens to receive proposals on January 8, 2019, and closes February 6, 2019 at 8:00 PM ET.
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