The DIN Rail and How It Got That Way

Unless you’ve spent some time in the industrial electrical field, you might be surprised at the degree of integration involved in the various control panels needed to run factories and the like. Look inside any cabinet almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll be greeted by rows of neat plastic terminal blocks, circuit breakers, signal conditioners, and all manner of computing hardware from programmable logic controllers right on to Raspberry Pis and Arduinos.

A well-crafted industrial control panel can truly be a thing of beauty. But behind all the electrical bits in the cabinet, underneath all the neatly routed and clearly labeled wires, there’s a humble strip of metal that stitches it all together: the DIN rail. How did it come to be, and why is it so ubiquitous?

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To Ferrule or Not to Ferrule?

We recently posted about a spectacular 3D-printer fire that was thankfully caught and extinguished before spreading to the hacker’s house or injuring his family. Analyzing the remains of the printer, the hacker determined that the fire was caused when a loose grub screw let the extruder’s heater cartridge fall out and touch the ABS fan shroud. It ran full-on and set things on fire.

A number of us have similar 3D printers, so the comments for this article were understandably lively, but one comment stood out by listing a number of best practices for wiring, including the use of ferrules. In particular, many 3D printers connect the heated bed, which draws a lot of current, with screw terminals to the motherboard. While not the cause of the fire in the original post, melted terminal blocks are a common complaint with many DIY 3D printer kits, and one reason is that simply jamming thick stranded wire into a screw terminal and hoping for the best can result in increased resistance, and heat, at the joint. In such situations, the absolutely right thing to do is to crimp on a ferrule. So let’s talk about that.

 

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Good in a Pinch: The Physics of Crimped Connections

I had a friend who was an electronics assembly tech for a big defense contractor. He was a production floor guy who had a chip on his shoulder for the engineers with their fancy book-learnin’ who couldn’t figure out the simplest problems. He claimed that one assembly wasn’t passing QC and a bunch of the guys in ties couldn’t figure it out. He sidled up to assess the situation and delivered his two-word diagnosis: “Bad crimp.” The dodgy connector was re-worked and the assembly passed, much to the chagrin of the guys in the short-sleeved shirts.

Aside from the object lesson in experience sometimes trumping education, I always wondered about that “bad crimp” proclamation. What could go wrong with a crimp to so subtly futz with a circuit that engineers were baffled? How is it that we can rely on such a simple technology to wire up so much of the modern world? What exactly is going on inside a crimped connection anyway?

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