Connecting the Networked World: Sponsored Content
LEMO makes the taken-for-granted components that ensure connectivity time after time.
We live in a connected world. The ability to pass power, signals and data from one place to another is the lifeblood of that connection—the nervous system of our networked lives.
Although we tend to think of these networks as ethereal and invisible, in reality they all, at some point, need to be plugged in so they can be connected to the electricity that powers them, the information they carry or the signal they will broadcast. Coaxial copper wire, fiber optic cable, power lines: You name it, it all needs to be connected.
We might take those connections for granted, but without them, nothing would function.
Making those connections work—and making them work over and over and over again—is the business of LEMO and its sister company Northwire Inc.
“Our connectors are in CERN [European Organization for Nuclear Research], in nuclear power plants, in the space suits the astronauts on the ISS [International Space Station] use … anywhere where the connection absolutely has to work every single time, time after time,” says the company’s U.S. Marketing Manager Karen Birnie.
A family-owned, Swiss-based multinational corporation, LEMO has been building the precision parts that connect our networked world for three quarters of a century.
Connectors are essential in any piece of equipment that has to be connected and disconnected regularly. “It’s ironic, in a way,” says Birnie, “connectors are really important because they have to be disconnected. If something’s connected permanently, you just hard wire it in. Connectors are needed when you have to connect and disconnect, over and over again.”
Applications like headsets, vehicle mounted equipment, modular flight systems or communications networks that have to be set up and torn down quickly, all rely on connectors to work properly.
“That’s where quality really counts,” says Birnie.
Despite, or perhaps because of, their ubiquity, connectors are often a taken-for-granted component—the kind that no one notices unless they fail.
“A lot of people who’ve never heard of us, rely on us every day,” says Birnie, “but look under the hood, there are our connectors.”
LEMO connectors nestle inside key high-tech U.S. military and aerospace systems, ensuring the technology delivers, every time. A few examples:
• ISS communications console.
• Astra mobile satellite launch vehicle—DARPA Launch Challenge finalist.
• Sikorsky’s UH-60 Black Hawk.
• Boeing’s ScanEagle 3 UAV: Used by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.
• General Dynamics’ Abrams main battle tank: LEMO connectors are used in the DRS Sidecar Module embedded diagnostic system.
• L3 Harris’ ROVER 6 Transceiver: A part of the U.S. Army’s man-portable One System Remote Video Terminal, allowing soldiers to access surveillance feeds from drones.
• QinetiQ Talon: A multimission Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) tactical unmanned ground vehicle (TUGV), capable of disarming mines and IEDs.
“Companies choose LEMO because of the quality,” says Steven Lassen, LEMO senior customer applications engineer. “That starts with the raw materials, from the raw brass bar stock down to the metal platings that we use. You have to start with the highest quality raw materials, if you want the highest quality product.”
LEMO components operate with high reliability in the harshest environments imaginable—outer space, under water, in combat aviation. They are designed for, and employed in, applications where failure is not an option, like nuclear power plants or medical equipment.
Counterfeiters have paid LEMO the backhanded compliment of impersonating the brand—passing off substandard components online as the genuine LEMO article. It makes sense, Birnie acknowledges: “If you’re going to pretend to be a manufacturer, pretend to be best, right?”
A typical LEMO connector housing is precision-machined from a solid piece of brass and plated with chrome. Options for nonreflective military components include gun-metal anodized aluminum or black chrome plating. Durable brass and bronze contacts are gold plated to protect against oxidation while maintaining low electrical resistance.
But there’s no typical LEMO connector. They range in size from slimmer than a pinkie finger to thicker than a fist. The more than 36 different series of connectors LEMO manufactures carry everything: low- and high-voltage current, fiber optic signal, coaxial cable, fluids and more.
LEMO specializes in multi-pole and hybrid connectors that combine two or more connections into a single unit. “Say you have multiple fiber optic channels you need to connect, or a coax and a power connection. Rather than connecting them individually, one at a time, and risk the possibility of mis-mating, they can all be combined into a single connector. All you have to do is push in once and you’ve engaged all of the appropriate signals,” says Lassen.
LEMO’s catalog lists more than 85,000 standard products, but the company also offers custom configurations.
Customization can mean minor tweaks to existing products. “They may want one pin longer so that it mates first and breaks last,” says Lassen, “They may want to have a different material for the connector or the plating.” The connectors LEMO makes for the International Space Station (ISS) communications console, for instance, are made from aluminum, rather than brass, to save weight.
Or it can mean unique products designed from scratch. Like the tiny connectors in the gloves of the space suits used by ISS astronauts that power the heaters which protect the astronauts’ hands from the near absolute zero cold of outer space.
“You might think 85,000 was enough,” says Lassen, “But some people are hard to please—and that’s our target market.”
Bettering the military standard
While LEMO connectors are not MIL-SPEC according to the MIL-DTL-38999 standard for connectors, they meet or exceed many of the tests including exposure to salt fog, vibration and shock. For instance, where the standard calls for a lifetime of 500 mating cycles—plugging and unplugging the component—LEMO connectors are good for 3000+.
“Frankly, we can do better from a size, weight and power, or SWAP perspective than the 38999 standard allows. We’ve taken the best elements out of that standard and are able to make smaller, lighter connectors with higher pin counts in most cases,” says Lassen. “It’s just a huge size and weight difference and that’s one of the main reasons that so many UAV and aerospace companies are using LEMO products.”
Beating the standard is in LEMO’s DNA.
By 1868, when Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe made the first wristwatch—for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary—Swiss manufacturing was already synonymous with precision, reliability and excellence.
That was the tradition of excellence embodied by engineer Léon Mouttet when he founded LEMO in 1946. Now with more than 100,000 customers in over 80 countries, and with R&D and manufacturing facilities in Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S., LEMO is led by Alex Pesci, the founder’s grandson, proudly maintaining that tradition of precision manufacturing for which it is famous.
LEMO connectors take power to the heating elements in the gloves of the spacesuits on ISS.LEMO connectors are used where systems have to be plugged in and out, like the heads up displays on advanced aviation helmets.