Remote locations; how to design interconnect solutions for harsh environments

17 Mar 2023

Electronic systems and equipment are often used in hard-to-reach locations. When it comes to remote locations, space often comes to mind, because nothing on Earth is as remote as the red planet Mars or deep space. Closer to us, we can think of mountain-top observatories, deep sea rovers, or inter-continent data links. The common issue among technologies used in these challenging operating conditions is the extreme difficulty – if not impossibility – of accessing and maintaining electronic systems and related interconnects, including cables, cable assemblies, and connectors.

But this is also true in many other applications. Environmental conditions can prevent human technicians from accessing components for repair or replacement, even when they are actually close at hand. Radiation, vacuum, pressure, and extreme low or high temperatures are examples of factors that prevent easy access and maintenance.
Operating conditions must be taken into account when designing such applications.

The nuclear environment is a good illustration of the severe operating conditions to which interconnects can be subjected. The presence of radiation, vacuum environments, and extreme temperatures challenge the life span and performance of interconnect solutions and insulation materials with obvious limitations on personnel access. Both mechanical strength and electrical performance will be affected by this extreme environment, leading to premature aging and eventually failure of equipment.

Small Modular Reactors (SMR) and other newer reactors in development have exacting
requirements, which makes the design of interconnect solutions even more challenging. Additionally, high temperatures and radiation can degrade components that initially meet these requirements. It is therefore of paramount importance to understand how each material ages under specific conditions, so that as its
characteristics evolve, required performance is maintained throughout its expected life on the system.

Insulating materials specifically designed to resist radiation and maintain guaranteed electrical performance should be employed in these designs. Although traditional radiation-resistant insulating materials tend to be very stiff, which makes the cables more difficult to install in the system, new innovative materials allow for a more flexible interconnect while maintaining very good radiation resistance.

More information to read on Connector Supplier e book published in March 2023