Alternative connectors and supply contracts


We have all come to accept that the global supply shortages are affecting us all and no one in manufacturing can deny the daily challenges we face.

Although this is a short-term problem with a long tail it must be accepted and planned for. Assuming parts will be in stock for now is no longer an option. The best long-term solution is to have supply contracts in place that will cover you for 6-12 months.

For many companies, the ability to forecast and bulk buy is not an option, especially for the likes of contract manufacturers and sub-contractors who have no control over what parts they will be required to make.


Alternatives

When faced with supply shortages of connectors and interconnect items what can be done and how do you know what you can and cannot offer as alternatives?

Firstly, we need to establish if there is an alternative and that it will physically mate with the mating half. Many people will have their own horror stories of being offered alternatives that just did not mate properly and in some cases come loose.

Next is a question of quality and approvals. This is the part that many companies have the biggest challenge with as their product may have been through an approval process with the preferred part and so are reluctant to change purely down to product approvals.

This may be a genuine issue for medical or critical environment products. In most cases, however, an alternative part can often carry all required approvals. There is a misconception in the industry that generic connectors are cheap, low-quality and have no approvals. This is certainly not always the case and should be challenged.

It is worth mentioning that a little-known fact is that any branded manufacturers have copies of other manufacturers connectors. Think pain killers such as paracetamol, you get the idea.

3 steps

When looking at alternatives here is our 3 steps on how to decide what to use.

  1. Step 1
    Is there a branded version of the connector you are looking for? A good example is Molex Minifit JR and TE’s VAL-U-LOK both are identical and interchangeable with the same approvals. One is a good drop-in replacement for the other.
  2. Step 2
    If there is no branded alternative is the generic alternative being offered from a reputable supplier? For example, we have spent a great deal of time evaluating connectors in the market by putting them through extensive test and quality control processes to establish if they pass our stringent QA processes to be able to recommend to our customers.
  3. Step 3
    Is the alternative known with a track history? If so, then you can be assured they are good to use. Simply ask someone that uses the part and get an honest answer, a bit like any product review.

We have, over many years worked with a variety of connectors both branded and generic. Historically our customers specify what connectors to use, and some opt as standard to use generic connectors due to cost of previous supply issues with a branded version.

It is interesting that in the past for many people it would be unthinkable to substitute the current part for another, but these are not normal times. What is important is that we do not have to sacrifice quality and that there are options.

We have successfully helped many people navigate through the minefield of alternatives to help them overcome their supply chain issues and keep production going.

If in doubt we are here to help and encourage you to use our knowledge, after all they don’t call us Specialists in Cable Assembly for no reason!

Nick Locke, Nicab Ltd





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