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Custom Connectors VS Catalog Connectors: Benefit Breakdown and Challenges

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Millions of connector products are ready for order from suppliers and distributors, but electronics designers aren't always able to find a suitable off-the-shelf solution for their projects.

When relying on catalog connectors, projects are potentially at risk of higher costs due to:

  • Buying more connectors to do the job of one custom connector
  • Project delivery delays due to products redesigns built around catalog connectors
  • Multiple catalog connectors could lead to more complex board layout designs
  • Complicated quality assurance process

Application design is becoming more complex, requiring higher-speed functions, durability in the most demanding operating environments, and shorter connectivity across systems. Suitable connectors and interposers for these designs may not exist yet.

That's when customization comes in.

Custom Components vs. Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS)

Pins and connectors come off the shelf or are custom-made. Choosing a custom or catalog component depends on your standards, timeline, and design requirements.

Optimizing costs is an objective when developing electronics. For connectors and interposers, four primary factors inform cost-effectiveness:

  1. Turnaround time for the board layout process
  2. Connector size and functionality
  3. Connector quality
  4. Process quality

Below, we have listed the risk of catalog connectors and why choosing Plastronic custom components gives you a competitive edge and benefits you and your customer base long-term.

Off-the-Shelf Pins and Connectors:

  • Have shorter lead times, but supply depends on part availability
  • Lower in cost at first, but more expensive over time
  • Limit the use of custom logos or markings
  • Mixed production lots pose a significant risk
  • Can sometimes be subcontracted and come from multiple supply chains
  • Rarely offer ingress protection, increasing vulnerability
  • Require adjustments and bulkier components later on

Custom Pins and Connectors:

  • Have less lead time once tooling is fabricated
  • Save money long-term by utilizing optimized design solutions
  • Allow for 100% custom design specifications
  • Can be designed with any required ingress protection rating
  • Reduce the need for bulky components
  • Can perform the job of multiple connectors

What You May Not Know About Custom Solutions

In our line of work, we often hear these common assumptions from clients and prospects when it comes to custom solutions 

  • “I’ll only get the pins, and have to figure out prototyping and production on my own.”
  • “Prototyping must be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming.”
  • “Doesn’t custom mean small quantity machining?”

With Plastronics, these assumptions are false. Let’s talk about why you can’t afford not to explore custom pin and connector solutions if you want to set yourself apart from the competition.

Cost Breakdown: Connectors & Interposers

When considering the cost of custom connectors versus catalog connectors, you have to factor in the cost of creating the board and how the connectors will be used. With custom Plastronics connectors, we can produce much higher densities in much smaller dimensions than any existing catalog connector. Our unique approach to pin design, manufacturing, packaging, delivery, and price gives you a high-performance contact pin at the lowest cost. Dreaming bigger means adding value, enhancing performance, and cutting costs in other areas, such as assembly parts and materials. 

Design Breakdown

It is easier for a customer to layout a PCB for one Plantronics connector than it would have been to design the PCB for 8 catalog connectors. That's not an exaggeration—we recently developed a custom interposer for a customer that would have required off-the-shelf parts to do the same job at a lower quality! With only one connector needed, they could ground and isolate signals to one end of the board to create a better-performing product. The cost benefits not only came from buying fewer connectors per board, but the board itself became more cost-effective by using fewer components, creating fewer opportunities for product failure and a higher quality product.

Space Saving

By designing a more dense customer connector that took the place of 8 catalog connectors, the customer could save room on the board enabling them to shrink the board, and the overall application and create a smaller product. By shrinking down their product, they could free space to increase functionality or make their application smaller and lighter. We make those wins every day for our customers. Have an oddball space or unusual dimension requirements? We’ll make pins and connectors that fit.

Delivery Breakdown

Our rapid prototype technology through printing, milling, and molding in-house makes it easier, cost-effective, and faster to design a connector to fit the application and space instead of configuring everything else around a catalog product. The development time for a custom connector or interposer can be as quick as a couple of weeks, and our fully integrated in-house manufacturing process eliminates the threat of product or material supply delays. Despite the turnaround time for custom parts, redesigning a product around existing parts and risking delivery delays could push a product's completion date back even further than going the custom route initially. 

In our opinion, it is better from an overall design reliability standpoint, an optimal design application standpoint, quality assurance standpoint.

In the long run, do we ever look at the cost of quality assurance and the cost of product reliability, optimization, and optimal design versus using a generalized, all-purpose connector? The total cost of ownership is significantly less when approaching the design leading with a custom product.

Plastronics has always believed that breaking the mold is a good thing and, in some cases, smashing the mold is even better. We did this with the H-Pin and H-Pin Connectors.

Material Sourcing

Plastronics is a US-based supplier with US and international distribution. All materials are procured and used in-house, and in many cases, we support program development from the prototype stage(field or flight test) through preproduction and into the production stages.  

Our excellent relationships with suppliers, combined with in-house automated manufacturing, engineering, and support persons, means our customers receive their products on time without loss of traction due to supply chain shortages.

Using Custom H-Pins in Your Connectors

We've helped others shrink their applications and get more performance out of their connectors. From extreme temperatures to the smallest sizes, our pins can increase the functionality of your application. The H-Pin has a up to 2mm of working travel with a flat spring rate and can be utilized up to 15GHz with -1.0dB loss, carry up to 6 to 8 amps of current, and withstand temperatures up to 220°C.

We work with other connector manufacturers to develop new and enhance existing compression-mount connectors. With the H-Pin technology, manufacturers are designing new ways to make their connectors smaller, faster, and better.

We're taking all of those benefits to beat the competition and reduce the overall cost of ownership. Using our H-Pins in your products allows you to make your products better while breaking the mold of just being another off-the-shelf connector company.

Consider the Manufacturing Turnaround 

The custom development process at Plastronics starts with a conversation between the customer's systems engineer/designer, the product specialist, and the engineering team to determine expectations and application constraints. 

We also consider the following:

  • electrical and mechanical features
  • application environment
  • ratings required by the application.
  • how many contacts
  • power rating
  • how the connectors will engage or mate
  • material constraints 
  • type of signal will it be carrying

These considerations are some of our team's primary guidelines for designing an appropriate connector solution.

Manufacturing Process

Our automated H-Pin manufacturing process ensures that the first pin is identical to the last. Our unique approach to custom pin design, manufacturing, packaging, delivery, and price gives you a high-performance contact pin cost-effectively. The pin and connector manufacturer you work with should have a process that keeps components reliable and consistent.

Quick Turn Development Services

Plastronics offers “skunk works” support, pre-production manufacturing, and iterative prototype support. Our streamlined processes allow us to deliver your custom parts in around 3-4 weeks so that you can get it into your designs. We go through this process as often as needed in your design process. Need to test 10 concepts? We'll do 10 prototypes so you can test, iterate, and slowly make changes to get to that perfect final product.

Our Customers Think Big

With finer custom pin-to-pin pitches, equivalent or better power-per-pin than competing solutions, and superior overall performance, you can design the product you intended rather than compromising your design around catalog connector dimensions that don't quite fit.

Plastronics innovative process and semiconductor test experience allow our customers to customize their connector footprint rather than altering their designs to meet the standard dimensions of someone else's catalog product.

We believe in breaking the mold and want to help you do the same. Whether you work with us on your next custom connector build or use our H-Pins to make your connectors superior to the competition — changing the mindset around catalog connectors will position your company above the competition. When you no longer rely on off-the-shelf components, you remove the possibility of falling behind your competitors.

Plastronics has the application experience and available resources to help you optimize your next design. Reach out to us to schedule a quick consultation.

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