Whether we like it or not, increased usage of automotive electronics is going to focus attention on a class of components which may have little glamour or exotic appeal, but which will assume a role of vital and critical importance in tomorrow's automobile-the electrical connector. Though we may think of them as simple hardware, electrical connectors and interconnecting devices have reached a surprisingly high level of sophistication. This paper reviews the basic physics of electric contacts, with the objective of demonstrating how an understanding of the fundamental phenomena governing the behavior of electric contacts can be useful not only to designers and manufacturers, but also to users of electrical connectors.
Items to be covered include: the origin and significance of contact resistance, the influence of material properties on contact performance, the selection of platings or other protective coatings for connector contacts, the current-carrying capacity of contacts, and the effects of film and contaminates in contacts. The correlation of theory and experiment will be illustrated with graphs of typical laboratory experimental data.
Relative to the useage of electrical connectors in automotive electronics, it will be shown that much of the technology which exists and was developed in and for other industries will be applicable, if properly understood and utilized, in the automotive industry. But new, specific, and unique problems relating to connector requirements and application will be encountered in automotive electronics, and our best chance of solving them is to acquire an appreciation of basic connector fundamentals as discussed in this paper.