Industry | Report
Connectors Arise for Automated Assembly Using Industrial Robots

n the connector industry, the development of connectors that support automated assembly using industrial robots has been very active. Automated mounting using robots has begun to be put to practical implementation and is expected to find wider use in the coming years. It is expected to contribute to the improvement of assembling quality and labor saving. Recently, new product development of floating board-to-board connectors with improved high-speed transmission performance has become active, meeting market needs.

Heightened Need for Industrial Robots
Production using industrial robots is expected to be adopted in various industrial fields as it leads to the improvement of assembling quality, stabilization of production tact time, elimination of human errors, and reduction of manufacturing costs through labor saving. Accommodation to 24-hour, 365-day operation is also another factor for their adoption.

In recent years, needs for the development of products that support mounting using robots have been increasing with regard to connectors, which are odd-formed components, as well. In the connector industry, the number of manufacturers that embark on technological development of connectors compatible with mounting with robots has been increasing.

Compliant Connectors Emerge
The development of connectors for connection with flexible printed circuits (FPCs) and flexible flat cables (FFCs) that accommodate assembly with robots, which was conventionally considered impossible, has advanced. Normally, mating work of FPC/FFC connectors is carried out by workers using both hands. A technology to replace this process with mating using robots, and automatically locks connectors after the insertion of FPC/FFC card has been developed and put to practical use in some electronic products. In manual insertion of FPCs, errors, such as oblique insertion and half-insertion, can occur. By replacing manual insertion with robotic insertion, human errors can be reduced, and the generation of defects can be avoided.

Efforts have also been focused on the proposal of the absorption of positional deviation of PCBs through the use of floating technology. Floating connectors adopt a structure wherein the contact surface moves when the connector is mated on PCB (floating structure), and hence they can absorb positional deviation of PCBs in vertical and horizonal directions, which develops when the connector is mounted. Thus, they reduce the stress at the soldered section.

At INTERNATIONAL ROBOT EXHIBITION 2019 (iREX2019), which was held in Tokyo in Dec., leading connector manufacturers showcased connectors compatible with assembly using robots, along with product demonstrations.

Live Demonstration of automatic mating and assembly of floating connector at iREX2019 (Hirose Electric)
Demonstration of automatic mating and assembly of floating connector at iREX2019 (Hirose Electric)
At iREX2019, Hirose Electric Co., Ltd. demonstrated automated mating and assembly of floating-type board-to-board connector FunctionMax, using an industrial robot. The company also introduced a connector for FPC/FFC, which enables single-action connection, OneAction FH, and promoted its contribution to improved work efficiency through demonstration using an industrial robot. The FunctionMAX FH 23 Series is a 0.5mm-pitch floating-type board-to-board connector, which integrates conflicting features of the floating function and high-speed transmission capability in a single connector. It provides excellent heat resistance and reliability and proves suitable for automotive specifications.

In fall 2019, Japan Aviation Electronics Industry, Limited (JAE) brought to market the AX01 Series, which supports high-speed transmission of 8Gbps and faster, expanding its product lineup of floating connectors for industrial equipment that support automated assembly using industrial robots. The company also developed and commenced sales of a horizontal connection-type board-to-board floating connector, AX03 Series. The AX03 Series featured lowered height through the adoption of horizontal connection, thereby realizing space saving. At iREX2019, JAE showcased an extensive lineup of these products, and displayed a video introducing the assembly of the connector using a robot.

Iriso Electronics Co., Ltd. has been putting strength into its proposed automated assembly under the concept of “connectors that can be assembled by robot,” targeting the industrial robot market. A connector that can be assembled by robot consists of three technologies: 1) floating technology, 2) Auto I-Lock, and 3) two-point contact connector, allowing it to offer optimal solutions for automated mounting. It showcased its products at Mitsubishi Electric Corp.’s booth and demonstrated automated assembly. The company’s Unit-able Socket Connector features standardized interface section, enabling the standardization of the mounting process of small-lot, variable-mix products.