What is Industrial Connectivity?

Engineers include any component involved in the path of delivering control signals or power for doing useful work as part of industrial connectivity. Typically, components such as terminal blocks, connectors, motor starters, and relays are part of industrial connectivity.

Engineers divide industrial connectors into four categories depending on the environments in which they operate—commercial, industrial, military, and hermetic. Commercial applications do not consider temperature and atmosphere as critical operating factors affecting performance. Industrial applications require connectors capable of handling more rugged environments involving hazards such as sand, dust, physical jarring, vibration, corrosion, and thermal shock.

Most general connectors use low-cost materials to merely maintain electrical continuity. However, designers have a large variety of materials from which to choose for making connectors. These include brass, beryllium copper, nickel-silver alloys, gold, gold-over-silver, gold-over-nickel, silver, nickel, rhodium, rhodium-over-nickel, and tin.

No wire preparation is necessary for use in terminal blocks. The user only needs to strip the insulation and install the wire using a screwdriver. One can use a wide range of wire sizes with terminals that provide an easy way to hookup wires from different components, ensuring fast connection/disconnection during troubleshooting and maintenance.

Manufacturers make terminal bodies from a copper alloy with the same expansion coefficient as the wire it connects. This prevents uneven expansion from causing loosening between the connector screws and the wire, avoiding an increase in contact resistance. Using similar metals also avoids corrosion, usually with two different metals in contact, as a result of electrolytic action between them.

SSRs or Solid-State Relays control load currents passing through them. For this, they use power transistors, SCRs, or silicon-controlled rectifiers, or TRIACs as switching devices. Engineers use isolation mechanisms such as optoisolators, reed-relays, and transformers for coupling input signals to the switching devices to control them.

To reduce the voltage transients and spikes that load-current interruptions typically generate, engineers use zero-crossing detectors and snubber circuits, incorporating them within solid-state relays.

Semiconductor switches generate significant amounts of waste power, and engineers must minimize their operating temperature using heat sinks attached to solid-state relays. SSRs can operate in rapid on/off cycles that would wear out conventional electromechanical relays quickly.

Electromechanical relays physically open and close electrical contacts for operating other devices. In general, they cost much less than equivalent electronic switches. They also have some inherent advantages over solid-state devices. For instance, the input circuit in electromechanical relays is electrically isolated from the output circuits, and one relay can have more than one output circuit, each electrically isolated from the others.

Furthermore, the contact resistance offered by electromechanical relays is substantially lower than that offered by a solid-state relay of a similar rating. The contact capacitance is lower as well, benefitting high-frequency circuits. Compared to solid-state relays, electromechanical relays are far less sensitive to transients and spikes, not turning on as frequently as SSRs do. Brief shorts and overloads also damage electromechanical relays to a far less extent than the damage they cause to SSRs.

Improved manufacturing technology is now making available electromechanical relays in small packages suitable automated soldering for PCB mounting and surface mounting.