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The agricultural sector has now begun to recognise the need to use technology to harvest real-time data from their fields to become more efficient, avoid crop damage and reduce costs.
The demands placed on food production are intense. In a highly competitive global market, each grower is constantly under pressure to produce high quality crops at low prices. Despite the shrinking proportion of arable land, it is predicted that food production will need to increase by 70 percent in order to feed an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050.
To reduce the risks of famine, farming will need to become more precise and technologically advanced than ever before. Smart farming is already a reality to an extent, with genetically modified seeds, soil mapping and automated machinery. Now, technology companies are eyeing the agricultural sector with the intention of pushing back the boundaries to make farming more productive than ever before.
However, building sophisticated field-based networks for sensors and other types of technology comes with a particular set of challenges. Agricultural environments are characterised by extremes in temperature, water, corrosive chemicals and plenty of dirt and dust – not an environment normally conducive to sensitive electronic equipment.
To cope with this challenging environment, Bulgin developed the PXS4XX Smart Connector featuring an embedded EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read-only memory) device. Originally developed as a custom project for an agricultural in-field monitoring system, the connector system helped to improve farming efficiencies and processes through the introduction of sensory devices. Its rugged, miniature design is impervious to the harshest possible environmental conditions such as temperature extremes, exposure to dirt, water immersion and chemical spray.
Agriculture may have been the original reason Bulgin designed a rugged smart connector which allows easy pairing of devices and connectors, real-time connection status sensing and electronic device serialisation, but farming applications are not the only reason there is a rising demand for smart connectors.
Sealed circular plastic connectors offer highly reliable power or signal connections for use within medical, industrial, infrastructure and automotive applications where space is limited. Examples of EEPROM uses in wider connector applications include medical devices, test and measurement probe calibration, industrial sensors and devices with TEDS (transducer electronic data sheet) requirements. Given the demand, Bulgin went on to develop their smart connector as an off-the-shelf solution for the rugged connector market.
The intelligent connector enables the system designer to implement serialisation, save valuable space, identify the possible use of counterfeit products as well as saving time costs associated with the physical marking or labelling of connectors.
The environmentally sealed connector contains a 7 x 5 mm PCB with an EEPROM device, situated securely underneath the overmould of the miniature Bulgin 400 Series connector.
EEPROM devices in connectors can be used for a wide variety of applications requiring an electronic security check to establish a connection, including those requiring accessory or PCB identification, sensor calibration data storage and analogue sensor calibration.
With their ability to reliably store data and file systems for decades, EEPROM data memory technology allows for easy calibration and security code changes and can also facilitate efficient customisation of application programmes such as transmitter codes and appliance settings.
The 400 Series is one of the most compact series of connectors within Bulgin’s Buccaneer range and is ideal for designs requiring a small footprint. The miniature sealed circular connectors are lightweight and rugged, offering highly reliable power, data or signal connections condensed into a compact form factor.
Technology is pervading all sectors with the advent of IoT/Industry 4.0, and clearly agriculture will be no exception. With respect to connector level design, the increase in demand for smart connector technologies is rising. Where some of the programmable board level devices of the end equipment comes into the connectors, this allows easier and more timely updates to equipment without the need to open or compromise the integrity of the shell of the sensing device. More importantly, with the addition of new sensor and equipment control technologies to its product range, Bulgin’s ultimate intention is to offer support to customers beyond the remit of connectors alone.
For more information, visit http://www.bulgin.com/
About the author:
Christian Taylor is the leader of Bulgin's Engineering team, which provides expert advice and support to design engineers for bespoke connector solutions in any application. Christian is a Chartered Engineer with a Batchelor of Engineering (BEng) and Aerospace Manufacturing from the University of the West of England and a Master of Science (MSc) from the Manchester Metropolitan University. Before joining Bulgin in 2015, Christian worked as a Project Engineer for Aker Solutions and as a Principal Engineer for Qualification and Test Support at Siemens plc (UK).
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