SANTA CLARA, Calif. Connector makers, like other component vendors, are wrestling with the technology issues associated with high-speed bus interfaces. Announcements by several interconnect vendors at DesignCon here this week highlight the kinds of problems that are coming up for builders of communications backplanes and servers.
3M's Interconnect Solutions division announced a partnership with Harting Electronics GmbH aimed at ensuring a steady supply of 3M's HSHM 5-Gbit/second backplane connectors. Harting will second-source the HSHM line, which became 3M intellectual property with the acquisition of Robinson Nugent in late 2000.
Competitor Erni Components Inc., meanwhile, announced the launch of a new high-speed backplane and technology products division, Erni Systems Inc. USA. The division will concentrate on modifying the ZD family of high-speed connectors jointly developed with Tyco Electronics for particular customer specifications.
The new group promptly employed a high-powered engineering consultancy, North East Systems Associates, to provide signal-integrity and timing analysis as well as mechanical packaging support services for newly developed connectors.
3M is a relative newcomer in a connector market dominated by the Tyco-Erni alliance, FCI-Berg and Molex Electronics "the big three," acknowledged 3M business director Michael Stevens. Like its partner Harting, 3M's connector group is a second-tier player, concentrating more on customer satisfaction than on growing market share, he said. "We're not trying to be a Tyco though Tyco knows we're around," he said.
Though there is no separate breakout for connector revenue, Stevens said that 3M's electronics and telecom business unit accounts for about $2.2 billion of the corporate parent's $17 billion in revenue. The total available market for HSHM connectors was roughly $250 million "before the telecom sector crash," he estimated, but ongoing investments in communications backplanes could cause the market to increase to $750 million by 2005.
The HSHM pin-and-socket connector line provides both vertical and horizontal shielding for pin rows and columns, as well as controlled impedances. It is a 50-ohm system, using 100-ohm differential impedances, said Alexander (Sandy) Barr, 3M's development specialist. It supports data rates from 2.5 to 10 Gbits/s. Barr pointed to HSHM as proof that despite pressure from 3M's own fiber advocates copper interconnects are still viable to 10 Gbits/s.
The ZD series Tyco-Erni connector promoted at DesignCon supports hard-metric, CompactPCI and Eurocard backplane designs. Also a 100-ohm differential-signaling environment, the ZD supports 40 signal pairs for 3- to 5-Gbit/s data transfers. For higher data rates, up to 10 Gbits/s, Erni touts its Ermet XT connector system.
Elsewhere at DesignCon, Teradyne Connection Systems Division announced the GbX platform, a four-bank pin-and-socket connector that is said to provide a 10-Gbit/s throughput (transmitting 3.125 Gbits/s on each bank). The GbX connector is among the first to support 10-Gbit Ethernet, Teradyne said.