The word “revolution” is very common in today’s world. Whether it’s a revolutionary new smartphone or a revolution in personal transport, it is a phrase that is used frequently. How many of these things are truly groundbreaking, or how many are victims of marketing is a matter of debate. Marketeers never lie, of course, but we have been known to squeeze the last ounce of truth from a story to make it appear more attractive!
What cannot be denied is the staggering pace of innovation in all aspects of modern life, and the unsung heroes of these developments are the design engineers. The constant demand for the newest, fastest and smallest has put huge pressure on the people who turn these dreams into actual products.
The Importance of Components
The success or failure of a new product can hang on the smallest detail. The reputation that a company has taken years to establish can be destroyed almost overnight by something as insignificant as a poor choice of components. The hazard of using a part that will not perform correctly varies from an unhappy customer to the potential for life-threatening failure of a safety-critical system.
This is especially true when we look at the connector industry. An individual connector can appear relatively simple – its primary purpose is to join two electrical circuits together. However, when we look at the interconnect industry as a whole, the array of options becomes almost overwhelming. Connectors can be the tiny headphone jack on a smartphone or the huge power connectors that are used in the latest electric vehicles. The headphone jack can be plugged in with fingertips, but the power connector will need two strong hands to operate and must protect users from the high currents found in modern cars.
These are just two examples taken from a huge spectrum of products that must work in every environment known to man, from the vacuum of space to the depths of the oceans. If we consider the sheer scope of options, connectors are amongst the most complex components that a designer ever contends with.
Connecting with the Designer
It is important for the manufacturer to make sure that the design engineer has access to all of the information needed to select the right component. A generation ago, manufacturers would publish this information in printed catalogues and provide them to customers. But printed catalogues are cumbersome, are often out-of-date by the time they were printed, and difficult to use. The key role of the sales professional 30 years ago was often to explain to customers how to use their catalogue.
If we fast forward 30 years, this approach to providing product information is simply not flexible enough to cope with modern requirements. Designers work differently now, and the old paper catalogue does not provide the necessary detail. The real revolution (marketeers get everywhere, don’t they?) has been in the technology that connects the modern designer with the manufacturer, giving them access to design information.
The first step was to replace paper catalogues with digital editions that could be downloaded instantly. This was followed with 2D and then 3D models, saving designers an enormous amount of time when completed mechanical designs. Even this is now no longer enough in the age of Industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 is the name given to a raft of innovations that will transform the manufacturing process, giving rise to the smart factory. By sharing information at all levels of the process, the smart factory can respond quickly to fluctuations in demand. However, in order to integrate into the smart factory environment, suppliers cannot just publish datasheets and design files.
To be successful, suppliers will need to provide technical, commercial and logistical data covering all aspects of their products. From materials handling information to lifecycle management, the amount of content that will need to be available at the click of a mouse has grown in ways that engineers of previous generations could only dream of.
Solutions for the Modern Engineer
Samtec is always innovating to provide engineers with solutions for the entire lifecycle of their design, from concept and prototyping to production and obsolescence. Online tools like Solutionator, Samtec’s parametric design tool, make it easy to select exactly the right part for any design. Advanced tools like Channelyzer, which allows users to simulate their signal channel, are available at Samtec.com to provide confidence in the performance of connectors and cables in specific applications. Samtec also provides a huge amount of information including design guides, material data, models and videos, ensuring that the design engineer is always in control.
The manufacturing environment is changing and, in order to remain relevant, component manufacturers must change with it. Samtec is continuing to innovate to stay at the forefront of the latest trends.
Because we all want to be part of the revolution, don’t we?