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Making connections and staying one step ahead

03 September 2009

The highly specialised electrical connection applications that Multi Contact has been involved in over the years have been reported more than once in the pages of this magazine. In this article, UK managing director Selwyn Corns describes how his company's product developments have presaged the coming of the environmental age

In recent years, respect for the environment has changed our thinking on product design. As engineers we used to choose materials based upon their suitability for the product being designed - their strength and durability, capability to be moulded into a particular shape or form, aesthetics, and so on. We obviously avoided the known 'nasties' of the time, but there was little thought given to the after life or any by-product of the manufacturing process.

Today, the engineering world is encouraged to care for the environment at every opportunity - RoHS, WEEE and REACH are all terms imbedded in every engineer's thoughts and vocabulary. So, today, not only do we need to determine whether the material is strong enough for the job, but also how it will be recycled or disposed of at the end of its life. Moreover, whether it contains any hazardous substance, or whether the processes necessary to produce and finish the product contain any hazardous substances.

But ROHS, WEEE and REACH are only the legislative framework to bring European industry in line with current environmental thinking. This has had varying effects on manufacturing companies, depending upon their attitude and willingness to embrace the needs of the environment.

For many years we at Multi-Contact have been avoiding the use of certain chemicals in the materials and processes of our production, so when it came to RoHS there were very few changes to be made. Of course, this did not detract from the amount of effort and work that was put into checking and re-checking every material and process of all our components and sub-components again.

Ahead of the game
But the other side of the environmental issue is the requirement to harness renewable energy sources and so companies need to develop products that can enable us to do this. I suppose you could say that Multi-Contact's involvement in this started with the supply of specialist connectors for the early fusion experiments when the phrase "renewable energy" had not been coined. These experiments, which are still going on today, will, according to some scientists, be the ultimate sustainable energy source when the technology is perfected.

Since those early days Multi-Contact has developed various connectors for use in the environmental field. One such connector was designed for use in electric vehicles but never really took off in the numbers then envisaged. In fact these days we now supply more of this type of connector for trains rather than cars or vans.

Then, some 15 years ago, we developed the first connector specifically for use in photovoltaic systems. At that time the industry was in its infancy but today, photovoltaic systems are all around us - from parking meters to individual homes; from integrated building systems to solar parks. The original MC3 connector became very successful and continues to be so. Along with the MC4 connector, with its positive locking system, Multi-Contact is still the reputed market leader for photovoltaic connection systems.

With so much more emphasis on generating energy from renewable sources, there is a lot of research into the various forms. Wind energy is becoming very much established but there are other forms which have the capability to generate power far more effectively and efficiently. Marine energy, whether derived from tidal or wave, has this potential. Development and sea trials are on-going in this field and, and it is exciting to be involved in projects such as SeaGen, one of the first commercial tidal generation systems.

It's time to look forward to an interesting future.

 


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