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Anderson PowerPole Conectors
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Anderson PowerPole Conectors
What are you using to connect your 12V power to your mount, your dew heaters, your cameras? Automotive cigarette lighter connectors? I thought so!
It is of course the standard for many amateur astronomy electronics. It was designed with 12 volts in mind due to the large current demands of low voltage systems. And it’s cheap and ubiquitous.
And from time to time it generates eloquent epithets from the mouths of astronomers when it fails at the most inopportune moment. One of the problems with this connector type is the lack of mechanical stability in the connection. There is no solid detent when the connectors are mated, and a small amount of sideways pull on the wire can cause a power interruption which can ruin an imaging session or require realignment of a mount.
There are many possible replacements for this serviceable but ancient connector, but one that is gaining acceptance as a standard in many hobby arenas is the Anderson Powerpole. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and reliable. I just finished re-wiring my components with these connectors and decided to share my experiences.
There are many online store carrying these, but found the best selection and prices at an eBay store: http://tinyurl.com/ykky65c For $9 plus shipping I received a small baggie with 20 shells (10 red, 10 black), 20 wire terminals, and 10 roll pins.
To assemble one connector for use for 12 volt power, you use two metal terminals, one roll pin, and one of each colored shell as shown in the following photo:
The connectors can be purchased in 15 amp, 30 amp, and 45 amp sizes. The only difference in the sizes is the size of the wire that can be inserted into the terminal:
15 amp – for 16 to 18 guage wire
30 amp – for 12 to 14 guage wire
45 amp – for 10 guage wire
I purchased a bag of the 15 amp and a bag of the 30 amp. The following picture compares the terminals.
There are larger sizes available that handle more than 45 amps, but they have larger shells and create a larger overall connector that will not mate with these. In the 15, 30 and 45 amp sizes, all the connectors are the same size and can be plugged into one another.
In the photos, you can see small grooves and protrusions on the sides of the plastic connector shells. These are actually small dovetails that slide into one another to lock multiple shells together and create a connector of the desired configuration. You can assemble as many of these together as you like to create a multi-wire connector, but in this case we only need two.
One starts by attaching a terminal to each wire. They can be crimped, soldered or both for the most secure connection. Then, each terminal is pushed into the rear of the connector until it clicks into place. This is a one-time operation and once the terminal is in the connector it cannot be removed.
Next, the two shells are slid together using the dovetails on their surfaces. And finally the roll pin is pushed into the hole formed between the two to keep them from sliding back apart. The next photo shows the assembled connector along with a couple of other common hobby connectors for size comparison. You can see the roll pin in the hole between the red and black shells.
Making the Connection
To see how the connectors fit together, let’s take a sample power source and load such as a NiMH battery and Dew Heater Controller:
One thing to notice about Powerpole connectors is that, unlike the automotive connectors, these have no gender. You don’t have to worry about whether you need a male or female connector. They are both the same.
Once the shells are assembled into a connector though, they are polarized so you can’t accidentally connect a positive to a negative terminal. Since you can assemble these in any way you like, you do need to be careful to assemble all the connectors the same way so that consistent polarization is maintained.
The following is a photo of the ends of the two connectors from the battery and dew controller above. Note that both look identical and the red-black orientation is the same. From what I can gather on the web, this orientation is becoming the standard for these kinds of connectors. If you view them from the front, with the hood up and the tongue down, the red (positive) should be on the left and the black (negative) on the right.
If properly assembled, when you bring the two connectors face to face, they cannot be inserted into one another with the wrong polarity. Note how the tongue of one fits into the hood of the other. This means one must be flipped upside down of the other, which maintains proper polarity.
When inserted, there is a positive detent and the two halves make a very stable, solid mechanical connection as well. It’s easy enough to pull apart with a direct pull, but will not easily come apart by accident.
Where to Use Them
I have replaced all my main 12V connectors with the Anderson Powerpoles. I still use the RCA type connectors for my dew heater strips because that is the standard used on the controllers. Here’s a photo of how I’m using it.
Note the Turnigy power meter in the middle. This is a handy device that can measure volts, amps, amp-hours over time, watt-hours, etc. It has one connection for the Source and one for the Load. When the battery is used to power something like the dew heater, it is a Source. But when it’s being charged, it’s a Load. The fact that the connectors are genderless makes them ideal for this purpose since you can plug them into either end without an adapter. This is a very nice feature of the PowerPole connectors.
On the right side, I have adapters for use with devices that still have automotive connectors. And I’m still using the automotive connector for my main power cable because that is the connector on my jump start power supply. My next project will be to use panel-mount PowerPole connectors and install them in my jump start supply to eliminate the auto connectors completely.
You can also use PowerPoles for a power distribution box if desired. Here are some links to panel connectors and distribution boxes for that purpose.
Some caveats regarding these connectors:
Be aware of polarity during assembly. Make sure all your connectors are assembled identically so they will mate and maintain polarity. If are using someone else’s equipment, make sure they use the same polarity standard that you did.
Crimping and soldering the wire into the terminal. When you crimp, you need to use a crimper that maintains the round shape of the terminal’s wire receptacle. If you flatten the receptacle, it will not fit into the plastic shell. When soldering, be sure to keep excess solder off the exterior of the tube for the same reason.
Tolerances are tight. These are well made connectors without any slop. Pushing the terminals into the shell can sometimes take a little effort to get right. If it’s not precisely aligned it won’t go in. I found in some cases I had to try several times, checking for alignment between each time. The larger 30 amp terminal seemed to me to be a little more trouble than the 15 amp terminal, so if you can use the smaller ones it might be a bit easier.
Overall, I’m very pleased with these connectors. They have a solid feel of quality and reliability about them that is much less apparent in other types of connectors I’ve used. It remains to be seen how well they perform in the field, but the fact that they are being adopted by a wide range of hobbyists is promising.
The usual yadda yadda:
I have no connection with any of the connector vendors connected with these connectors. I know no one in their families, I have not voted for their local politicians, I have not rooted through their garbage, and I have not tended their yaks.