Connectors may not be the most technological products on the electronic components market, but distributors say customers are demanding advanced solutions that can do and withstand more in just about every industry today.
“Customers want more weather resistant, environmentally sealed connectors,” says Dave Rome, chief marketing officer for New York-based interconnect and electromechanical specialist Peerless Electronics. “Whether it’s avionics or transportation or medical, you still have to keep all the debris out. They also want the connectors to be lighter, smaller, and more rugged.”
That’s good news for companies like Peerless, which specializes in value-added solutions that include everything from making switch, cable, and connector assemblies to circuit breaker and relay panels. Making products watertight and heat-resistant is par for the course at this specialty distributor, especially as more customers outsource such production requirements and seek partners that will take on small-volume orders.
“Sub-contractors overseas don’t want to do 100 or 200 pieces,” explains Rome. “But we fit into that niche. No order is too small for us.”
Rome also points to growing demand for higher speed and broader bandwidth in interconnect solutions.
“We never heard that with connectors before and now that’s all I’m hearing,” he says.
Mike Smith, vice president of Ohio-based distributor Hughes-Peters, echoes those sentiments, pointing to strong demand for environmentally sealed connectors as well as for those that can withstand high current. Hughes-Peters is a regional interconnect, passive, and electromechanical (IP&E) specialist that is also focused on value-added services such as cable assemblies, wire marking, panel assembly, and a range of inventory management solutions.
“Anything harsh environment, sealed/IP67, and high current” is what customers are looking for, Smith says, adding that low cost is the key demand on the printed-circuit board (PCB) side.
Manufacturers are keeping up with that demand, with some of the largest companies focused on high-speed, lightweight products, adds Rome. He points to TE Connectivity’s CeeLok Fast-T connector system, a rugged, small form-factor, 10-Gigabit Ethernet, field terminable I/O connector for aerospace, defense, and marine markets (see the figure). He says smaller manufacturers are focused on niche applications, pointing to CW Industries’ custom high-density connectors for the military, available in small order quantities.
Looking at business trends, Rome and Smith say they’re cautiously optimistic about the connector business for the rest of the year. Smith says business has been consistently flat and he expects that to continue through the end of 2013. As of early summer, Peerless Electronics’ sales were up over last year, with slowing sales on the military side offset by strength in commercial aviation, medical, and industrial markets, Rome says.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he says. “I think we’re so well diversified in that we have field people designing in product, our new e-commerce site is going [strong], and we also have our value added services business, so we have several different things going on here.”
Peerless recently enhanced its online store and launched a Web site focused on the value-added services side of the business, both designed from a consumer-oriented point of view.
“We actually looked at what we’d want to see if we were shopping, and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be in electronics. It’s what we’d want to see in everyday life,” explains Rome, noting that the Web sites are vertical-market driven to match its sales approach. “So if you’re in medical, you see medical [industry information and applications]. If you’re in aerospace, you see aerospace. We made it very user-friendly and vertical-market driven to match our field team.”
Peerless’ new sites are in response to growing customer demand for online service, says Rome, pointing to globalization, increased time-to-market, and a general demand for around-the-clock information as key drivers. He says the Internet continues to be a business game-changer, even in the connector market.
“If you’re buying parts and you know what you need, it makes sense,” says Rome. “Customers are busier, distributors are busier, the big distributors are getting even bigger. The Web makes it easier for everybody.”