Electrical connection technology as a smart diagnostic interface

October 22, 2018

Whether in an automobile – particularly with regard to autonomous driving – or in tomorrow’s production systems, plug connections and electrical connection technologies play a central role in digital networking. Researchers at Fraunhofer EMFT are working on a new smart plug with integrated sensor systems. This plug encompasses a wide range of parameters such as energy consumption, faulty conditions, or the ambient temperature.

© Fraunhofer EMFT / Bernd Müller
High-resolution thermal image analyses of press-fit connections.
© Fraunhofer EMFT / Bernd Müller
B-crimp for automotive applications.

Electrical connection technologies are the main interface between machines, control systems, and data processing devices. They thus form the basis for functionality, simple handling, and reliability within automation technology. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Microsystems and Solid State Technologies EMFT in Oberpfaffenhofen are working on a new generation of active, “smart” plug connectors. Their aim is to integrate miniaturized sensor systems into the plugs. This allows the connection quality to be monitored. In the future, these little electronic “helpers” will take responsibility for a type of condition monitoring for the devices connected and, for example, record energy consumption. The data is evaluated inside the plug itself and is then transmitted wirelessly to a mobile end device.

Strict miniaturization requirements

Because the effects to be measured are very small and often only occur without distortion in the immediate vicinity of the electrical contact, a high degree of miniaturization of the sensor technology and packaging used is crucial. At the same time, quality and service life must be maintained. The plug connector must also work absolutely reliably for safety-sensitive applications such as autonomous driving, even in the event of difficult ambient conditions such as vibrations or dirt. For miniaturization and integration, the researchers are making use of solutions from the Fraunhofer EMFT technology portfolio such as foil technology, which allows the embedment of semiconductors and sensors in extremely narrow gaps and in small volumes.

Efficient and safe operation

The integration of these functions into the packaging provides up-to-date parameters for quality measurement; this makes it possible to measure the degradation of plug connectors. That, in turn, allows for an early forecast to be made regarding critical conditions in the plug connectors. Overall, the installation and reliable operation of systems are thus made much easier – be they in automobiles or in production.