Last week, we talked about how industrial connector plug designs evolved through the 1990s, growing ever smaller and more flashy in design. More recently, these modern industrial connector plug designs have been even more miniaturized and streamlined for lightweight, simple use.
For example, during the 2000s, industrial design changed dramatically. Connectors shrunk another 20-30% to mostly micro-miniature size. Over-molded plugs were still used for consumer cables but commercial cable plugs all went solid metal, zinc die-cast back-shell types. Wire circuit counts were reduced because of narrow serial interfaces replacing wide parallel I/O interfaces. Average wire size shrunk to 28-30 AWG.
Fastener usage went to all latches or just retention bumps and no more jackscrews. This period saw a carnival of colors being used for plugs and cable jackets. SGI supercomputers were “wow” factor purple and some of their cable assemblies were also. Cable plug types like RJ45s and HSSDC2 became available in a variety of colors to enable better visibility and reduction of installation and repair times. Fiber-optic cabling became more prevalent and their jackets standardized as orange MMF and yellow SMF. Consumer, Pro-AV and some commercial cable plugs and jackets competed with each other to stand out with more ostentatious “jewelery” looks. Chrome, bright copper, bright gold and other flashy materials were used on plug connectors. Some plug connectors used embedded lights and many jacks used embedded light pipes for different functionality states. Some cable jackets used fancy meshes and oval bundle shapes.
Now in the 2010s, modern industrial connector plug designs have dramatically changed again. Connector plugs and cables have shrunk again and are mostly called nano-miniature with many contact pitches going down to 0.5 mm. It is ironic that the new USB Type C plug is too small to use adeptly for many older generation users and people with large hands. Fortunately, you can plug it together in either 180° direction. It just takes two dexterous fingers to plug and unplug the tiny connector. But millennial users especially gamers and people who continuously text, seem more adapt as many grew up using handheld controller peripheral devices.
Datacenter people use finger-looped pull tabs that actuate the latching mechanism to disconnect a SFP connector or push-pull optical connector plugs. Some datacenter operators like to show off their elegant equipment to prospective clients and prefer the bright tin plug finish as seen with Volex’s SFP and QSFP family of cables. However, the jewelry look usage has diminished and has been replaced by the ultra-modern white appliance look and chic ceramic-like acetic like Apple’s Thunderbolt connector plug and cable jacket. The green movement has been reflected by Hitachi’s use of pleasant green connector plugs and cable jacket.
However, many newer datacenters conserve power consumption rigorously and keep their lighting illumination to a minimum. So they tend to use just all white boxes and cable assemblies to help reflect available light in the buildings. White cable plugs with printed corporate logos, I/O standard symbols and other icons stand out much better to read than the old black and matte metallic die-cast finishes with hard to see icons like SAS 6Gbs. The older black MPO optical connector plugs are seeing some competition from the newer translucent MXC plugs which are also much smaller.
So what will the 2020s bring relative to modern industrial connector plug designs? Maybe we will see most cables with clear silicone cable jackets over glass fibers. Near future datacenters will be very automated using Amazon type robots to do all installation and replacement work. Thus the ergonomic plug connector design will be relative to robot hands. Consumer cabling will be very simple as many I/O standards are converging and settling on using the Type C connector. Newer wireless technologies may cause less I/O and power cabling to be used especially for mobile devices. General passive copper and active copper cabling usage will likely be replaced by more active and passive optical cabling.
Commercial datacenter cabling will be very simple as many I/O interfaces will have converged and dominant Silicon Photonics technologies may only need two or four glass or plastic fibers. Optical power may become common and embedded in the fiber-optical /O cable. So we may not see as many copper data cables and power cords in the future.