Connecting the cold bits with cryogenics

Author : Roy Phillips | Managing Director | CryoCoax (a division of Intelliconnect)

01 July 2021


A layman’s guide to cryogenics & superconductivity – and how to make the right connections…

This tutorial was originally featured in the July 2021 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Cryogenics can be defined simply as ‘the branch of physics dealing with the production and effects of very low temperatures’. Its early origins were in the late nineteenth century, when Faraday et al experimented with the liquefaction of various gases, and has developed tremendously over the subsequent 140 years or so. (nb: it is not to be confused with cryonics, the science of freezing dead bodies!). Here, Roy Phillips, Managing Director at specialist designer & manufacturer of cryogenic interconnect products, CryoCoax (a division of Intelliconnect) explains how, today, cryogenics has become a key part of our scientific and engineering present – and is set to become an even bigger part of our future…

A key emerging market for cryogenics in the electronics industry is being created by the immense interest in quantum computing, while other applications include medical, space, defence, aerospace, education, test & measurement, biological research, chemistry and more. The use of electronics, particularly RF, within cryogenic applications is especially interesting, and involves a phenomenon called superconductivity.

Superconductivity occurs within certain materials at ultra-low temperatures when a charge or signal moves through the material without resistance. The obvious benefits of this are a massive increase in capacity, efficiency and the signal integrity of an RF system.

One of the biggest challenges in this market is the very narrow supply chain for the exotic materials required to manufacture cryogenic products and the new technology required to combine components into a working system or sub-assembly. While not insurmountable, this remains the biggest challenge to successfully create manufacturable products with reliable and repeatable performance.

As conventional soldering is not possible with some cryogenic cable materials, Intelliconnect has designed an award-winning solderless connector and other low temperature hardware to create assemblies which work to below 2 K (-271.15°C), at bandwidths up to 40GHz.

Technical specifications, both electrical and mechanical, are significantly different in the cryogenics world, and product design engineers will be working with scientists outside of the customary world of electronics, rather than their traditional customer base of RF and electronics engineers, which presents a new set of challenges.

Intelliconnect has been involved in the design and manufacture of cryogenic cables, interconnects and sub-systems now since 2014, and despite the massive barriers to entry into this market, has become a market leader in both Europe and USA.

The enormous investment in equipment and stock required was the first major hurdle. Specialised test equipment, self-designed manufacturing equipment, hugely expensive materials and even additional manufacturing space had to be procured.

Relationships with many seats of learning in UK, USA and elsewhere were essential, and Intelliconnect have developed a large network of university partnerships, which has helped immeasurably with product development and elevating technical expertise.

In such a specialised vertical market, brand recognition becomes extremely important. In an industry where physical and electrical tolerances are very low, quality expectations are incredibly high, and product and supply reliability are paramount, it has been essential to create a new brand which was synonymous with all of these customer requirements. As a centre of excellence for all things cryogenic, Intelliconnect has created a specialised subsidiary business - CryoCoax - dedicated to the cryogenics industry.

CryoCoax are members of the British Cryogenics Council, the Cryogenics Society of Europe and the Cryogenics Society of America. An ISO9001 manufacturer, CryoCoax is also SC21 accredited to a Silver standard. SC21 is a business quality and improvement qualification designed to provide a continuous improvement programme and assure supply chain performance. Silver Award proves >96% on time delivery and 99.5% quality.

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