Higher-level functions will be crucial for the success of connectors

Interview with
Norbert Gemmeke, Managing Director Harting Electric, on the influence of digital twins on the development of industrial interfaces

tec.News: To date, when it comes to the design-in of interfaces users have been primarily guided by the mating face – meaning by the shape, round or square, the number of contacts, the size and technical data. Is this the future?

N. Gemmeke: Naturally, the physical design of connectors will continue to play a role. Today we are restricting ourselves to the electrical and geometrical data of the connector. For years, considerable efforts have been made to map these properties in a uniform manner. Thanks to new approaches such as the digital twin, we now have the chance to finally achieve this. Over and beyond this, connectors contain additional information that is not mapped and put to use today.


tec.News: In order to make this information usable, will industry interfaces need "higher level” or higher value functionalities"? Which ones could they be? What potential do you see here?

N. Gemmeke:  That's a good question! What are higher level, or higher value functionalities? These must be sub-divided into categories.

  • Functionalities that already exist today but are not even used in simulating plants, such as insertion and extraction forces, insertion cycles and deratings.
  • Dynamic information from the connector, such as the temperature of the contacts and humidity in the connector, which is not yet being recorded today.
    Power generation, distribution and storage will present our technological challenge for the next 10 to 20 years and we will be reaching ever higher current densities. In this context, we will need to know and process considerably more about the condition of the connector.

In addition, this data will enable the complete simulation of plants and systems. By fully mapping this information in digital twins, we are opening up new optimisation opportunities. With the help of simulations, I can use components right up to their limits


tec.News: When will we see connector functions such as self-monitoring and status  control, e.g. intelligently creating zero voltage when opening, or the mapping or processing of environmental parameters in industrial applications?

N. Gemmeke: This derives from the speed with which our energy supply systems are changing. Let's take a look at the use of direct current (DC): while we have been working on solutions here for years, a necessary, revolutionary development is still not yet in sight. In the future, connectors will have to provide the aforementioned functions. In terms of technology, we are able to ensure these functions.


tec.News: What role does the digital twin or management shell - standard plus data model - play in the introduction and design of higher level connector functionalities?

N. Gemmeke: The asset administration shell plays a very crucial role here. A large part of the functions we have already talked about must be mapped there. Moreover, it is imperative to map all the data on the carbon footprint of a product - and to do so in a form that is standardised and also further processable. With the digital twin, we must succeed in setting standards for formats and interfaces. There is no other way that we will be able to master the abundance of static and dynamic data of a product in the future.


tec.News: What experience has been gained with pilot projects such as SmEC (Smart Electrical Connector)? What conclusions for standards can be drawn from this?

N. Gemmeke: With the SmEC , we have developed the prototype of a connector in order to provide precisely the functional-dynamic parts of a connector mentioned above. We have mirrored these functions both in the DC environment as well as operations in the Smart Factory Kaiserslautern. This has resulted in the first approaches for standards. And these must be free of form factor and mating facea as an initial approximation. Final approaches must result from the application.


tec.News: Does that mean that the functions will be more important than the physical mating face?

N. Gemmeke: In future, higher level, or higher value functionality will be a decisive success criterion for connectors. Physical features such as plug-in faces will continue to be determining, but will not be the sole deciding factor. This must be taken into account with suitable data standards that map the static and dynamic functionality. We don't know what the future holds in general, but in terms of our components we can already actively shape the upcoming developments.