From passive connectors to active system components


Connectivity specialist binder explains how high-frequency electronics integrated into the circular connector can help reduce the density of electromechanical functions inside the component’s housing, promote miniaturisation, and still create more space for optimised power transmission.

Miniaturised interfaces for signals, data, and electrical power are an engineering challenge per se. When it comes to components for medical technology, developers face even more stringent requirements. Failure protection, signal integrity, as well as functional, operator, and patient safety make their design tasks even more complex.

The increasing functional complexity places tight physical limits on the miniaturisation of interface components. In state-of-the-art M12 circular connectors, for example, which comply with the draft standard 63171-7, power pins, protective contacts, shielding, and data ports coexist in a very small space. Although this is appropriate and desirable for overall functionality, it immensely restricts freedom in the design of individual functions. In the case of medical devices, this is particularly challenging. The compactness of the connectors is thus generally limited here, and many of these interfaces have already reached the boundaries of practical feasibility.

Questioning the contacts

Traditionally, in connectors, signals, data, and power are all linked via electrical contacts, whose mechanical and chemical properties fundamentally determine the performance, quality, and efficiency of transmission. In order to keep losses to a minimum, such direct electrical connection is absolutely essential for the power supply – but is not required for signals and data.

In the world of data transmission, there are proven standards for both wired and wireless connectivity. The use of the corresponding technologies depends mainly on the type and amount of data to be transferred, but also on the environmental conditions. While broadband wired Ethernet is becoming more and more established in instrumentation and automation technology, the low-energy Zigbee and Bluetooth LE – or high-speed WiFi – are good examples of widespread wireless communication standards. For data rates above this spectrum or in environments with electromagnetic interference, optical transmission methods such as fibre optics are also used.

In view of this variety of possibilities, the question arises as to what extent they can contribute to solving the problem of limited miniaturisation of interface components in combined signal, data, and power connections. For example, what if signals and data could be transmitted between the male connector and the device without occupying space for electrical contacts? Without having to shield them from supply pins and from supply wires? What if the IP-protected installation space inside a connector housing could, in future, be used exclusively – or at least much more than before – for power transfer? What if the connector could accommodate an even wider range of functions?

Formerly a connector, now a micro device

With the NeaCo² technology demonstration, binder explored this question and successfully merged the two worlds of electromechanical and wireless interfaces. Using NeaCo², the engineers from Neckarsulm/Germany have shown how electromechanics and Radio Frequency (RF) electronics can be combined in a small hybrid connector. While power is transmitted via the traditional pins, they have implemented wireless Near-Field Communication (NFC). NFC has a significantly shorter range than Bluetooth or WiFi, for example, but allows the NeaCo² to be used in numerous new applications, such as device identification, predictive maintenance, and fault prevention. In short, binder has used the integration of RF electronics to transform passive hybrid connectors into active system components, so-called micro devices.

These offer tremendous advantages. Developers can use the entire installation space within the connector for the power pins, widening their design options. And this helps them optimise the efficiency of the compact and protected power port. Electronics integration also adds options to the development of product variants. The respective connector itself can be equipped with additional features, but can also act as a communication node – or even as a controlling device.

The possible new features that can be integrated into the hybrid connector thanks to NFC include:

  • Identification of approved devices; only approved devices receive power
  • Identification of devices for optimised power transfer
  • Counting of mating cycles and recording of electrical resistance in order to predict faults
  • Metering transmission power and temperature
  • The function as an access point for live data traffic
  • Safety shutdown if operating limits get overrun
  • Minimised susceptibility to errors caused by contamination thanks to contactless data transmission
  • The use of an additional data channel for migration systems


By integrating RF electronics, engineers are able to transform passive connectors into active system components. Thus, these receive new characteristics and distinctive features. The performance and communication capabilities of the hybrid interfaces may improve, and additional application scenarios may arise. The new connectors can be used across all industries beyond medical technology – from industrial automation to e-mobility.


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