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How to select an electrical contact supplier

6 key factors you need to consider when selecting an electrical contact supplier

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When it comes to electricity, a strong connection makes everything go. Current flows unimpeded, like a superhighway of electrons, and your machine works efficiently. It’s no different when you’re selecting an electrical contact supplier.

A partner with the right capabilities and qualities can energize your project and can result in a successful switch design. But the wrong supplier can be like a horrendous traffic jam – endless delays, questionable detours, application problems and even embarrassing failures.

#1 Metallurgical expertise

This is the most important quality of all.

Your ideal electrical contact supplier needs to have deep knowledge of theoretical and applied metallurgy, especially material qualities and limitations. Your supplier partner needs to anticipate how various metals and alloys will behave under a variety of conditions as an integral component in your products.

The supplier you select also needs to have a solid prototyping and testing process, because electrical contact design is equal parts art and science. In other words, the exact behavior of electrical contacts within a switch can only be discerned through sampling and testing. Your supplier should have a proven process for reaching the optimum contact design and material. It should meet your requirements and do so at a reasonable price.

Hugo Francisco, the president of Norstan, is one of the world’s leading experts on electrical contacts. His decades of knowledge and experience enable you to achieve the right solution for your application, while also avoiding pitfalls that could shorten contact life and cause premature switch failures.

#2 Electrical expertise

Ideally, your electrical contact supplier should have deep expertise in the electrical properties of metals, specifically:

  • The levels of current and resistance that are required for the application,
  • What device is connected to the electrical switch in which the contacts will be used? How much current will it draw?
  • How arcing affects the life of electrical connectors

#3 Mechanical factors expertise

For best results, your electrical contact supplier must deeply understand the ways in which the shape and thickness of an electrical contact can affect its mechanical performance:

  • The forces applied to it can also have a big impact on its durability.
  • If an electrical contact opens and closes too slowly, it can weld shut.
  • If it does so too quickly, the contact may shatter, accelerating material erosion and reducing contact life.
  • If an electrical contact is subject to excessive vibration or heat, it could detach from its substrate, causing the switch to fail.

#4 Environmental factors expertise

Ideally, your electrical contact supplier needs to have a solid working knowledge of the environmental factors it will be exposed to, and how they are likely to impact electrical contact life:

  • They need to plan for adequate heat dissipation in your switch design, because excess heat can shorten the life of your electrical contacts.
  • If your switch application uses a non-arcing contact, then it’s at the mercy of the environment in which it’s used.
  • If your switch uses a metal that oxidizes or sulfidates when exposed to moisture and other elements, it may interfere with the switch’s ability to make a reliable electrical connection.

#5 A keen eye for manufacturability

Your electrical contact supplier needs to be an effective partner, analyzing your switch designs with an eye toward manufacturability:

  • Some materials and designs are easier to work with than others.
  • An effective manufacturing partner should be able to help you work through design challenges and performance trade-offs.
  • In other cases, the switch manufacturer needs to keep costs to a minimum. The electrical contact supplier can meet this need with a bimetal design. But this introduces new variables into its manufacturability and performance. Your electrical contact supplier should be aware of these pros and cons, and advise you accordingly.

For best results, your electrical contact supplier should also have extensive tooling and metal forming expertise in house. Why? Because many designs require multiple iterations to create a design that meets all of the mechanical and cost requirements of the project. Your supplier team should be able to iterate quickly – which can only happen if they have these capabilities in-house.

#6 Committed to a consultative relationship with you

Ultimately, your electrical contact supplier needs to be able to look at your switch design and ask the right questions about its application. From there, it needs to discern potential problem areas and help you tweak your designs to solve them. That requires in-depth knowledge of metallurgy, mechanical factors and other key disciplines that many suppliers don’t have. Their superficial knowledge means you take on greater risk. No one needs that!

Norstan has an unparalleled depth of metallurgical and application knowledge that we can use to help you optimize the design of the electrical contacts in your switches.

Ask Hugo A Question .


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