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What is a hybrid connector?

Which quagmire have you experienced lately?
Case 1: Your production assembly schedule goes off the rails due to QA finding random misaligned surface mount connectors due to migration during reflow.

Case 2: You’re taking returns due to field failures; fatigued surface mount solder joints are cracking.

Case 3: You’re purchasing a pin grid array but only really using a fraction of the pins, so you’re paying for unused pins and their expensive gold plating.

Sometimes, with a slight modification, the functionality of a standard connector product can be greatly improved. A connector incorporating non-standard configurations is a hybrid connector assembly.

The purpose of a hybrid connector is to add a feature that resolves a particular assembly challenge. Whether it’s the ability to improve assembly production rates, increase PCB attachment retention or improve connector alignment to its surface mount pads.

Hybrid connectors can utilize non-standard pins, sockets, or insulators in any combination. They can be a combination of standard products put together in a non-standard configuration. So, making new custom individual components is not necessary. However, the assembly process will always require some level of customization.

Example 01: First-mate, Last-break spring pin connector
When signal sequencing is required, first-mate, last-break spring pin configurations provide a viable solution. This hybrid assembly utilizes two spring pin heights, typically 0,5mm difference. In principle, the shorter signal pins do not engage until the taller spring pins (tied to power or ground) have compressed. This principle is sometimes used as a circuit safety feature.

Example 02: A surface mount DIP socket with flat base pins can potentially migrate off-center to its printed circuit board pad pattern during reflow. By incorporating short stub-tail pins in two diagonal socket positions, and providing small via holes on that board, this part can be placed and will retain precision pad alignment.

Example 03: Surface mount connectors sometimes require molded caps for pick and place assembly. If possible, integrating a pick-up surface directly into the insulator design will save both time and money by eliminating the added cap assembly.

Example 04: Ball Grid Array Adapters
For Ball Grid Array semiconductor devices there is an adapter to socket solution. The BGA device is reflowed to an adapter for the conversion of solder ball to male pin termination. In principle, the adapter makes the solder ball device now pluggable for test and development purposes. In debugging circuits, the BGA adapter can be unplugged to determine if the diagnostic is at the printed circuit board level or the chip level.

Mixing pin retention styles is another path to creating a hybrid connector. Kinked lead pins provide a friction fit retention into a PCB, this method is used to prevent sockets from lifting or tilting during soldering.

Even the insulator is part of the hybrid equation. Many standard surface mount interconnects require a molded cap placed on to provide a pick and place vacuum surface.

Regarding automated assembly:
By advanced planning in product development, this pick and place vacuum surface feature can be designed as part of the insulator itself. This not only saves time but a lot of money too, as one mold and an additional product assembly operation have been eliminated.

Regarding selective pin loading:
Selectively populating connectors can offer several advantages: selectively loading a pattern can make the connector indexed (as long as the pattern is not symmetrical). Removing unused positions can save material costs. Selectively loading a pattern, especially through-hole, can open internal PCB space for more routing channels and possibly reduce board layer requirements.

Regarding machined insulators:
Hybrid insulators made of base FR-4 (no copper clad) can be milled and drilled using a PCB router. The advantage of this is it only requires a machine setup and not the generation of a costly mold. A hybrid assembly made of Base FR-4 can have the same thermal coefficient of expansion as the printed circuit board it is mounted on. This aspect may be useful for minimizing board warpage of long, narrow parts that may expand and contract during and after soldering.

Regarding insertion and extraction forces:
One of the features of two-piece machined socket construction is the flexibility of the internal contact clip. Socket forces can be easily increased or decreased by substituting the internal contact clip.

Hybrid connectors are designed to resolve challenges that standard off- the shelf connectors cannot. The modification can be slight or extensive. New product functionality can be realized by integrating the best feature of through-hole connectors with surface mount connectors.
There is an advantage and a disadvantage to be acknowledged here:
The disadvantage: creating a hybrid connector will require at least a modification to the standard assembly process. And minimum quantities will apply.
The advantage: Creating a hybrid connector does not require a stamping die. Even custom insulators can be drilled and milled in small quantities on a PC router. Standard pins and socket receptacles are put together in combination. So, unless the pin or socket receptacle itself is being modified, there should be minimal tooling costs.

Comments and suggestions are welcome.




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