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Anderson Powerpole for Amateur Radio

This is the story of how the Anderson Powerpole became established as the national emergency communications power connector for the amateur radio operators in the US.

As an original contributor to the ARRL course on emergency communications, for Levels 1, 2 and 3, I specified and established in 2000 the use of the Anderson Powerpole connector as the standard power connector for 12 volt use. It quickly took off and established itself as the dominant standard nationwide. Take a look below, and you'll see why. (March 30, 2008)

Enjoy, and feel free to drop me an e-mail if you have any questions.

Emergency power connectors before the year 2000

March 30, 2008

Up until the year 2000, there was no single standard power connector for 12 volt DC that could handle the many needs of the amateur radio operator involved in emergency communications. It was very much recognized that the need was great during an emergency to quickly hook up and interchange equipment and power cables, but no one single standard had been established.

Years earlier in December 1995, the ARRL Field Services ARES Field Resources Handbook specified the two-pin MOLEX Series 1545 connector using the standard .093 inch series pins. It further specified the male plug end with female pins for the power supply and the female plug end and male pins for the radio. It had the advantage of being readily available nationwide at the nearest Radio Shack store. Unfortunately, it was not designed to handle more than 14 amps, with a contact resistance of 10 milliohms.

There were incidents where the pins in the connectors fused shut because of the heat generated by the use of high power and current. VHF and HF mobile radios were evolving past the 25 watt output power level and moving towards 50 and 100 watts. At 50 watts FM, the typical continuous current for a VHF transceiver was 12 amps, and for 100 watts SSB/CW, the typical peak current for a mobile HF transceiver was 20 amps. Therefore, while convenient and comparatively low cost, it could not meet the growing needs for mobile/portable emergency communications.

Other connectors in common use included: the banana plug, terminal strips and various types of connectors reused from the automotive industry. These connectors did not meet the general criteria for the desired connector.

  • Able to handle at least 20 amps continuous
  • Able to mate and unmate quickly and easily without excessive force or the need for tools
  • Able to maintain a reliable connection when exhibiting stress and strain of the power cable being moved around during field operations.
  • Grip the attached wire securely, with no exposure of the power conductors to prevent accidental electrical shorts.
  • Use the minimal number of parts and tools to assemble the connector.
  • Ideally, use corrosion resistant pins to maintain long connector life in humid environments.
  • Universally available, or be small and lightweight to reduce cost of shipping and handling for catalog / Internet web sales.

I kept in touch with Stan Harter, KH6GBX, formerly of Hawaii State Civil Defense who had moved to California to work at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. The amateur operators in California had adopted the use of the Anderson Powerpole for emergency communications work. Features of the connector addressed the desired benefits.

  • Able to handle at 30 or 45 amps continuous (using the same connector shell, just different pins)
  • Able to mate and unmate quickly and easily without excessive force or the need for tools
  • Able to maintain a reliable connection via friction to permit cables moved around during field operations.
  • Grip the attached wire securely with recessed pins, with no exposure of the power conductors to prevent accidental electrical shorts.
  • Can be assembled with a simple Gardner Bender GS-88 8-inch Crimping pliers, or a professional level crimp tool.
  • Silver plated copper pins for corrosion resistant connectors.
  • Self-wiping design provides good electrical contact.
  • Small, lightweight and comprised of only three parts (black connector shell, red connector shell, and the contact pins). The connector is genderless and works for both the power and radio ends of the cable connection.

Among the earliest information is this informational bulletin put out by the California Office of Emergency Services.

The ARRL Emergency Communications course

March 30, 2008

In April 2000, the ARRL commissioned a team of amateur radio operators to put together educational material for amateur radio operators providing communications during times of emergencies. Dan Miller, K3UFG was selected at ARRL HQ staff to interface and oversee the development of the material with Pat Lambert, W0IPL leading the team of 12 members in compiling the material. Correspondance was handled via emails due to the geographic distribution and time zones involved. The ARRL ARECC program development phase continued as the team contributed write-ups for the outline and course content, submitting the materials to Pat. A course outline was developed. It became apparent that the breadth of the material would span more than one course offering and that it wound up being broken out into three levels. We divided out the sections for writing. Pat wrote about 40% of the materials, and I wrote about 40%.

Pat took the Level 1 section that included the power connector. When the topic of which connector should be selected, I offered the Anderson Powerpole due to its merits and proven track record in California. Pat obtained a sample, worked with it, and was equally convinced of the robustness of the connector.

The course was assembled, converted into a web-based educational courseware and offered in December 2000. It promptly filled up within the first 24 hours.

The idea of using Anderson Powerpole connectors had gone nationwide, and even international (I mentored a US ham temporarily residing in the Philippines) with the first course offering. Within a few months, West Mountain Radio began offering break-out power strips called RIGrunners, which were available at Dayton 2001. Other vendors have since offered other marketplace solutions based on the Powerpole.

Options for the Powerpole

March 30, 2008

Powerwerx.com has a web page with good assembly instructions. Contrary to what some believe should be a polarized connector, the genderless format for the Powerpoles is ideal. The key is to ensure that the black and red plastic housing are correctly positioned. Looking at the pin end of the connector (not the wire end of the connector), The black housing is on the right, with the recessed pin assembly on the bottom.

This genderless, non-polarized format enables you to make a power extension cable using black-and-red power zip cord -- and be able to cut it into two pieces in the field to make two power pigtails that can be connectorized with any connector you need -- whether it is for the radio end or the battery end. It doesn't matter. It's genderless. Try that with any pair of Molex connectors. What some see as a deficiency is actually the Powerpole connector's strength!

I highly recommend the use of the West Mountain Radio PWRcrimp Powerpole crimp tool. I saw it at Dayton 2004, and bought it immediately! For $50, you can't go wrong. It is so much faster and reliable than any means of hand crimp or solder. The crimp is absolutely solid, better than solder and the pin looks like it was manufactured onto the end of the wire. The ratchet in the crimp tool will release only after you've applied the complete and full amount of crimp pressure. And, the crimps are 100% professional and reproducible every time. I've stopped soldering the pins after I came across this crimp tool, and have given away my crimping pliers. Powerwerx.com has a similar tool. You can buy the official Sargent crimp tool, but it costs four times as much. There is even a higher level of crimp tool if you work with mass production of the connectors.

I also highly recommend getting the Powerpole extraction tool P/N #111038G2. It's so much easier with the right tool. Powerwerx.com has it available.

The Anderson Powerpole connector was never intended for use in a high vibration environment requiring the use of wire to hold the connectors together. However, if you do have such requirement, there are solutions. You can thread your own wire through the holes in the connector originally designed for inserting rolled pins to keep the connector aligned. Also, Anderson makes a retention clip P/N 110G68. See this page. Anderson also makes the Blok-lok Clamp P/N 110G21 for high vibration situations. See this page. You can find these and other accessories at powerwerx.com.

Some have pointed out that the Powerpoles don't restrain well when used on a power distribution strip such as the West Mountain Radio RIGrunners. Take a look at the Saratoga Power Panel 4 (for example). The hole for the rolled pins is accessible, and you can string through a fine wire to restrain the connectors together. Ham Radio Outlet carries Saratoga products.

With this primary and after-market support, it is little wonder why the amateur radio community has quickly embraced the Anderson Powerpole as the solution for its 13.6 volt DC emergency communications needs.

Troubleshooting the Powerpole

March 22, 2009

Some have mentioned difficulty in getting the Anderson Powerpole to mechanically bind together. After some research, I uncovered these three common mistakes.

  • Excessive force misapplied during the hand-crimping process, such that the metal pin is bent instead of straight. The solution is to gently bend the pin back with a pair of needle-nose pliers to restore the pin to it's original shape. Use another metal pin as a guide and reference.
  • The metal pin was inserted into the plastic housing upside down, and therefore does not lock into position. If you hold the plastic housing such that the metal tab embedded within the connector is on the bottom side of the housing, insert the metal pin such that the tip curves downward. In that way, the metal pin will latch into place when the pin is fully inserted.
  • The metal pin is not fully inserted. If you insert the pin fully, you should hear the sound of a "click" as the pin fully engages in the plastic housing. You may need a fine needle-nose plier, the Anderson extractor tool or similar hand tool to coax the pin fully into the housing.

Find out more by contacting:  rhashiro(remove this part)@hawaiiantel.net
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Updated: March 22, 2009

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