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High-Density Electrical Connector Pair Designed For Extreme Depths
BIRNS Develops High-Performance, Custom-Designed Flange Bulkhead Connectors for an ROV's Sonar System

By Amy Brown
Director of Corporate Communications
Oxnard, California

Completed Millennium 3P-17-FR-CUSTOM and 3M-9-FR-CUSTOM connectors.

Deep submergence connectors are required to deliver high-performance results under some of the most demanding environments on the planet. They withstand harsh marine elements at extreme depths while providing unfailing communication with huge power loads. Sometimes these advanced systems must be tailor-made for highly specific existing hardware while being adaptable enough to allow for future project development. These custom systems go from drawing board and development to testing and delivery in exceptionally tight lead times.

In mid-March, Oceaneering International Inc. (Houston, Texas) asked BIRNS Inc. to develop a pair of high-performance electrical connectors for the sonar system of a work-class ROV rated to six kilometers. BIRNS had to engineer two sets of flange bulkhead connectors created to retrofit into an existing titanium pressure vessel already fabricated for military-standard MIL-C-24217 connectors. BIRNS was asked to deliver complete new designs, fabricated and tested, within six weeks to meet Oceaneering's deadline—as developing these custom flange connectors were the only thing keeping the ROV out of the water.

On this ROV project, Oceaneering technicians needed a custom solution for the ROV's sonar system that could handle the electrical load and perform at pressures of no less than 8,800 pounds per square inch.

Precision mold tooling is created to avoid lateral or rotational movement during the molding of the inserts.

Connector Design Requirements
BIRNS designed the connectors to withstand high open-face pressure to six kilometers and to meet other demands of Oceaneering's ROV system, which required elevated contact density to ensure the accuracy of the sonar readings. The engineering team adapted the miniature, high-density metal shell connector inserts from the BIRNS Millennium series to fit in the confines of the sonar system's titanium bottle. The first size, a 3M-9-FR-CUSTOM pin arrangement, was 2.5 inches across the flange with nine No. 16 American wire gauge (AWG) electrical contacts. The second size, a 3P-17-FR-CUSTOM pin arrangement, was three inches across with 17 No. 14 AWG contacts. Each insert had custom-made flange bulkhead shells.

To ensure elevated contact density, minimal electrical resistance and corrosion prevention, both connectors' contacts were created with 50 microns of hard gold plating over 50 microns of hard nickel underplate. While Oceaneering's sonar system had legacy MIL-C-24217 connectors built into the instrument base, the amount of gold on the BIRNS flange connector contacts was 2.5 times more than is required to fulfill U.S. Military Standard MIL-G-45204, which only specifies gold plating as thin as 20 microns. Additionally, each solder pot on the connectors was insulated with glass-reinforced epoxy (GRE) part way up the shaft. After termination, heat-shrink tubing was placed over the solder pots to avoid short circuiting. To continue this article please click here.

Amy Brown, director of corporate communications for BIRNS Inc., is responsible for developing and managing the company's strategic external marketing, media relations and internal communications programs.

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