Punching it Down: Insulation Displacement Connectors

In my misspent youth I found myself doing clinical rotations at a local hospital. My fellow students and I were the lowest of the low on the hospital pecking order, being the ones doing the bulk of the work in the department and paying for the privilege to do so. As such, our locker facilities were somewhat subpar: a corner of a closet behind a door labeled “COMMS”.

In the room was a broken chair and a couple of hooks on the wall for our coats, along with an intriguing (to me) electrical panel. It had a series of rectangular blocks with pins projecting from it. Each block had a thick cable with many pairs of thin, colorful wires fanned out and neatly connected to the left side, and a rats nest of blue and white wires along the right side. We were told not to touch the board. I touched it nonetheless.

I would later learn that these were Type 66 punchdown blocks for the department’s phone system, and I’d end up using quite a few of them over my hacking life. Punchdown connectors were a staple of both private and public telco physical plants for decades, and belong to a class of electrical connections called insulation displacement connections, or IDC. We’ve recently looked at how crimp connections work, and what exactly is going on inside a solder joint. I thought it might be nice to round things out with a little bit about the workings of IDC.

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Print your own header shrouds

Don’t get us wrong, printable whistles are cool and all, but these printable header shrouds make us think that filament printers like the Makerbot and RepRap might just be worth their salt. This utilitarian purpose is a departure from the souvenirs, toys, and art that we’re used to seeing from the expensive development toys tools.

The six and ten pin header shrouds are designed for a snug fit that makes it easy to glue them onto the plastic spacers of male pin headers. We use IDC plugs and ribbon cable all the time in our projects, but never seem to order shrouded connectors; this is perfect for us. It makes us wonder what other PCB-friendly printable designs we’ve been missing out on? Surely someone’s been printing stand-offs with threaded inserts, right? If you know of something useful that we can share with the rest of the readers, don’t hesitate to send in a tip.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

5×2 patch board

Sometimes we want to sit on the back porch, crack a beer, and do some prototyping. Other times we’d like to do the same but on the couch in the livingroom. To that end we added a 5×2 pin to 10×1 pin patch board to our solderless breadboard.

The 5×2 pin form factor is pretty common, used as an AVR programming header, on development boards like the Dragon Rider 500 and the STK 500, and in small prototyping devices like the Bus Pirate. We like the freedom of using IDC cables as interconnects and that’s where this board comes in. Now we can patch into the IDC cables yet still quickly disconnect them when moving to a different prototyping location. Check out the PCB artwork and this handy device in use after the break.

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