United States Patent 3848949

A multi-conductor electrical connector means for use in an adverse hostile environment such as a subsea installation, the connector means including a plurality of connector members and connector elements providing electrical connections for a plurality of circuits. Each connector member carried in a plug means is individually, separately adjustable to provide an effective electrical contact with its associated connector element to compensate for metal deformations in contacting surfaces under constant high pressures required in such hostile environment and to provide for the making and breaking of repeated electrical connections as may be required during installation and maintenance. A plug means for an electrical connector means in which an elongated contact member is non-rotatably advanced by a rotatable driven follower member.

Application Number:
Publication Date:
Filing Date:
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
439/259, 439/310, 439/359, 439/425, 439/572, 439/902
International Classes:
E21B33/038; H01R13/523; H01R13/453; H01R13/703; (IPC1-7): H01R13/54; H01R9/06
Field of Search:
View Patent Images:
US Patent References:
3571779SELF-SEALING PINBOARD1971-03-23Collier
3025486Three way electric plug1962-03-13Falconer
2782275Plugboard for computer programming system1957-02-19Vance
2703870Electrical connector1955-03-08Minto
2620029Electrical connector for well tools1952-12-02Turechek et al.
2163201Analyzer plug1939-06-20Kalencik

Primary Examiner:
Frazier, Roy D.
Assistant Examiner:
Staab, Lawrence J.
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Jaros, Edward F.
I claim

1. In a multi-contact button-type electrical connector for use in a hostile environment, the combination of:

2. In a multi-contact button-type electrical connector for use in a hostile environment, the combination of:

3. In a multi-contact button-type electrical connector for use in a hostile environment, the combination of:

4. In an electrical connector for use in a hostile environment and including a receptacle means having an internal contact element, a plug means having an internal contact member alignable with the contact element, means for holding said receptacle and plug means in fixed relative non-rotational assembly, opposing faces of the contact element and contact member being in spaced relationship, and protective cover means between said opposing faces, the improvement comprising:

5. In an electrical connector as stated in claim 4 wherein

6. In a connector as stated in claim 5 including


Electrical connections made under conditions of hostile adverse environment such as connecting to a subsea wellhead or production control unit located at a sea floor, require relatively high pressures to maintain effective electrical contact under sealing conditions required to isolate the electrical contacting surfaces from the adverse environment. During installation and also during later maintenance of electrical connections at such well equipment, the electrical connector may be repeatedly connected and reconnected. Each time an electrical connection is made, electrical conducting contact surfaces of the metal conductors become deformed, particularly when one of the conductors may be of a softer metal relative to that of the other conductor. Within the physical limits of relative displacement of the connector receptacle and plug bodies of prior proposed sealed electrical connectors, deformation of the contacting metal of the cooperable conductor members rapidly reaches an unsatisfactory electrical contacting condition and such metal to metal contact is not correctable by further tightening of the receptacle and plug members of the connector means.

Prior proposed subsea electrical connectors for use in such hostile environment are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 2,700,141 2,703,870, and 3,657,681. In U.S. Pat. No. 2,700,141 movable and fixed electric contacts and puncturable discs or gaskets containing a sealing compound are carried in a pair of water tight separable members, the movable contacts puncturing and moving through the discs to make electrical connection with the fixed contacts. In U.S. Pat. No. 2,703,870 connecting pins penetrated discs of soft rubber having convex opposed faces to expel fluid from the space between said convex surfaces to protect the contact elements from the fluid. In my patent, U.S. Pat. No. 3,657,681 fluid was purged between opposed annular contact elements carried in exposed position on convex resilient surfaces. In application Ser. No. 197,324 filed Nov. 10, 1971 (owned by a common assignee) an electrical connector means is disclosed in which button-type contact members are used and protected with an elastomeric material which may be penetrated by one of the contact members upon drawing the receptacle and plug members together. In said application shim means are provided between the receptacle and plug members to regulate depth of penetration and during repeated coupling and uncoupling of the connector means, shims may be withdrawn to permit increased penetration of one conductor member with the other conductor member to assure effective electrical contact.

In each of such prior proposed electrical connector means, after a series of repeated connections have been made, some of the electrical contacts may be satisfactory and others may not be satisfactory. Thus the entire electrical connector means may require replacement.

In addition, such prior proposed electrical connector means employed a plurality of circumferentially arranged securement bolts for urging the mating housing portions into proper assembled relationship. In some instances, even though the circumferentially arranged securement bolts were tightened in preselected order to provide uniform advancement and pressure of the circularly arranged contact elements, acceptable tolerances between the two mating housing portions often permitted non-uniform pressure engagement between the contact members with the result that circuits on one side may be satisfactorily completed while circuits on the opposite side were not satisfactorily in desired electrical contact. Such difference in pressure engagement about circularly arranged contact members became increasingly evident after several electrical connections had been made.


This invention relates to an electrical connector means particularly adapted for use in a subsea hostile environment and so constructed and arranged as to avoid disadvantages of prior proposed constructions and to provide positive precise electrical contact between contact members. The invention particularly relates to an electrical connector means wherein each contact member carried by a plug means is individually and separately axially movable into desired pressure contact with its corresponding contact element carried by a receptacle means, the pressure contact being determined by the displacement of the contact member rather than by the assembly under pressure of the plug and receptacle means.

An object of the present invention is to disclose a novel construction of a subsea electrical connector means of button-type wherein positive effective electrical contact between mating connector parts is readily achieved.

An object of the present invention is to disclose and provide a novel electrical connector means having a plurality of contacts and arranged to provide effective repeated electrical contact between cooperable contact members.

An object of the invention is to disclose an electrical connector means wherein electrical contact between axially opposed contact members and elements is obtained by separate individual adjustment of one of the contact members.

Another object of the present invention is to disclose and provide a novel means for axially displacing or advancing one of the contact members to provide an effective electrical contact with an opposed contact element.

A further object of the invention is to disclose a plug means for an electrical connector wherein contact members are individually and separately advanced, each by a rotatable follower member selectively adjustably turned through means external of the connector means.

A still further object of the present invention is to disclose a novel construction of a plug means for an electrical connector wherein said plug means includes cap means carrying a plurality of follower members having contact at their inner ends with electrical contact members.

A still further object of the invention is to disclose and provide a plug means for an electrical connector means wherein said plug means includes means to advance electrical contact members without rotation thereof.

Generally speaking, the present invention contemplates a receptacle means having a chamber within which is supported a plurality of contact elements under a protective elastomeric cover. A plug means having a hollow body carries at one end contact members protected by a similar elastomeric cover and juxtaposed to the contact elements of the receptacle means. Each contact member is non-rotatably axially movable by a rotatable follower member threadedly carried by a cap means closing the other end of the hollow body. Turning of each follower member by a means of a wrench advances the associated contact member through the protective covers into selected pressure contact with the contact elements to achieve desired electrical metal to metal surface contact between the contact member and contact element.

Various other objects and advantages of the present invention will be readily apparent from the following description of the drawings in which an exemplary embodiment of th invention is shown.


FIG. 1 is a side elevational view, partly in section, of an electrical connector embodying this invention, said section being taken in a longitudinal plane passing through the axis of the connector and through a support wall, one of the contact members being shown in normal retracted or initially assembled position and the other contact member being shown in projected or advanced position for making electrical contact with a contact element.

FIG. 2 is a view taken from the vertical plane indicated by line II--II of FIG. 1, FIG. 2 being partly in section and showing a cable connection to the electrical connector.

FIG. 3 is a fragmentary sectional view taken in the vertical plane indicated by line III--III of FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 is a fragmentary vertical sectional view taken in the plane indicated by line IV--IV of FIG. 1.

FIG. 5 is a fragmentary vertical sectional view taken in the plane indicated by line V--V of FIG. 1.

An electrical connector generally indicated at 10 embodying this invention is shown in FIG. 1. Generally, connector means 10 includes a receptacle means 11 which cooperably receives a plug means 12 in such relation that fluid is purged from the connection and electrical contact of the electrical conducting elements is made under protected conditions. Receptacle means 11 may be suitably mounted on a wall 14 which may be a wall of a subsea wellhead unit, a subsea production control unit, or a bulkhead. An electrical cable 15 extends through a suitable weather and seal tight fitting 16 in wall 14 for connection to receptacle means 11. An electrical cable 17 is connected to plug means 12 as described in detail later. It will be understood that the cables 15 and 17 may be of any suitable construction for use in a hostile environment and that various forms of entrance connections to the receptacle means and the plug means may be utilized.

Receptacle means 11 is of a construction similar to the corresponding receptacle or housing portion of said copending application Ser. No. 197,324. Receptacle means 11 provides a stepped chamber means including an outer chamber 20, an intermediate chamber 21 of reduced diameter and located interiorly of outer chamber 20, and an inner still further reduced diameter chamber 22 forming with chamber 21 an annular shoulder 23. Inner chamber 22 communicates with fitting 16 for cable 15. Receptacle means 11 may be made of any suitable material for example metal, to provide a housing capable of withstanding pressures of the hostile environment. Receptacle means 11 includes on its back face an annular seal means 24 seated against the exterior surface of wall 14 and suitably secured by bolts 25.

Cable wires 27 from cable 15 are provided with an electrical connection at 28 in chamber 22 with contact elements 29 provided in a composite contact carrier member 30 located in chamber 21 and seated against shoulder 23. Carrier member 30 includes a hard nondeformable dielectric base portion 31 of water resistant material such as a hard neoprene or micarta material. Base portion 31 carries seal means 32 for sealing engagement with side walls of chamber 21. Base portion 31 is also provided with a location or registration pin 33 receivable within aligned bores in base portion 31 and in receptacle means 11.

Carrier member 21 also includes a top portion 35 of relatively soft resilient dielectric material such as a soft neoprene. The top portion 35 is seated and bonded against the outwardly facing surface of the base portion 31 and completely imbeds the cylindrical heads 36 of connector elements 29. Connector heads 36 have an inwardly facing shoulder seated against base portion 31 and shank portions 37 extend through base portion 31 for the electrical connection at 28. The soft resilient portion 35 serves as a protective cover for the connector elements 29, each outwardly directed contacting face 38 of each contactor head 36 being protected by a selected thickness of the resilient dielectric material and forms thereover an embossment which appears as a button.

The contactor elements 29 may be arranged in any suitable preselected pattern, in this example a generally circular pattern with a contactor element also located at the center of the circle. The registration pin 33 extending into aligned bores in the receptacle body and the carrier member 31 precisely orients the contact elements 29 with respect to the receptacle means 11.

Receptacle means 11 includes a longitudinally extending slot 40 at its open end for reception of an alignment pin 41 carried by plug means 12 to orient the plug means with respect to the receptacle means 11. Receptacle means 11 also carries a plurality of circumferentially arranged securement bolts 42 provided with internal cam faces for cam engagement with an annular groove 43 in the outer cylindrical surface of plug means 12, said groove 43 being generally V shaped in section so that as bolts 42 are tightened the plug means 12 will be urged inwardly of the receptacle means 11.

The above-described receptacle means 11 and cooperable engagement of a plug means with such a receptacle means is described in copending application Ser. No. 197,324.

The present invention relates to the construction and operation of plug means 12 in association with receptacle means 11. Plug means 12 may comprise a generally cylindrical connector body 50 having an open end 51 with an internal radially inwardly extending flange 52 provided with a forwardly directed annular seat 53 for seating a carrier body 54. Carrier body 54 is made of dielectric material similar to that of carrier member 30 and includes a relatively hard base portion 55 and a relatively soft resilient portion 56. Carrier body 54 snugly fits within open end 51 and may be provided with an O-ring seal means 57, carrier member 31 and carrier body 54 being of the same diameter and positionable in coaxial opposed relation when the plug means 12 and receptacle means 11 are assembled. Resilient portion 56 has an outer face configuration 58 corresponding to the surface configuration on the resilient protective cover 35 of the receptacle means and provides opposed button contacting areas 59 directly opposed to the corresponding button contact areas on the carrier member 31.

Base portion 55 of carrier body 54 is provided with a plurality of circularly arranged and central through bores 61 of uniform diameter. Each through bore 61 slidably carries a contact member 63 provided with O-ring type seal means 64 for sealing engagement with through bore 61. Each contact member 63 includes an enlarged head 65 having an enlarged cylindrical portion 66 providing an annular shoulder for seating engagement as at 67 against base portion 55. Each head 65 includes a conical portion 68 having a pointed contact end protectively covered by a button portion of resilient material 56.

Means for individually and separately advancing each contact member 63 through resilient portion 56 and into electrical contact with its respective contact element on the receptacle means may comprise an elongated shank portion 70 on each contact member 63, shank portion 70 extending rearwardly beyond flange 52 and into a rearwardly facing chamber 71 formed in plug means 12. Within chamber 71 is provided a follower member 72 for each contact member 63. Each follower member 72 includes a cylindrical body 74 of larger diameter than shank portion 70 to provide at its inner end an end facing recess 75 within which is received the outwardly directed end 78 of the shank portion 70. Between walls of recess 75 and end 78 is a cup-shaped insert 76 of dielectric material to provide electrical insulation and at the bottom of the cup-shaped insert is a washer 77 to provide bearing contact with end 78 of shank portion 70. Such bearing contact permits rotation of follower member 72 with respect to shank portion 70 as later described.

Means for supporting the follower members 72 in axial alignment with their respective contact member 63 may comprise a cap means 73 having a body portion 80 received within said chamber 71 and having an external flange means 81 seated on the end face of carrier body 50 as at 82 and secured thereto by headed screw bolts 83. Cap body 80 is provided with a plurality of follower bores 85, each follower bore 85 having a bore portion 86 adapted to receive follower member 72 in sliding rotatable relation. Seal means comprising a pair of spaced O-rings 87 carried in each follower member provides a seal at each follower between chamber 71 and the environment exterior to cap means 73. Bore 85 includes an outer section 88 of slightly reduced diameter than section 86 to provide a shoulder 89 affording a stop for follower 72 when moved in an outward direction.

Each follower member 72 includes an externally threaded portion 90 which engages internal threads as at 91 provided in the reduced bore section 88. Outwardly of threaded portion 90 each follower member 72 is provided with a wrench engaging end portion 92 of suitable polygonal section and adapted to receive a socket on a socket wrench for turning thereof. Socket engaging ends 92 of each follower member are located in a circular recess 93 defined by an axially extending annular flange 94 formed on cap means 73, said flange 94 protecting the socket engagement ends 92 of the follower members.

Each follower member 72 may thus be engaged by a socket wrench and rotated whereby the follower member is axially moved to advance contact member 63 associated therewith towards its mating contact element and into selected pressure engagement therewith. Means to prevent rotation of each contact member 63 includes an elongated flatted recess 96 provided in shank portion 70 adjacent the face of base portion 54. Receivable within each flatted recess 96 may be a fixed lug member 97 secured to base portion 54 by a suitable screw bolt 98. Turning of contact member 63 is thereby prevented and entanglement of electrical leads 100 connected to said contact member 63 at 101 is thereby prevented.

Means for entry of electric leads 100 to chamber 71 from cable 17 is best shown in FIG. 2 wherein a cable fitting 110 includes a side outlet body 111 secured against a flatted surface 112 of cylindrical body 50 and at an entrance opening 113 formed therein. Internal cable 114 extends through an internal cable socket 115 and through suitable bushing seal means generally indicated at 116 of suitable make and manufacture for providing a sealed entrance into chamber 71. The other end of intermediate cable 114 is encapsulated in a suitable dielectric block 118 where connections 119 are made to cable lines 120 provided in cable 17. Cable lines 120 extend through another dielectric body 121 and both dielectric bodies 121 and 118 are protectively housed within a rigid cable socket member 122 having external threads 123 for sealing engagement with internal threads 124 provided on an attachment fitting 125. Attachment fitting 125 is secured by screw bolts 126 to side outlet body 111. It should be noted that the inner end of attachment fitting 125 is provided with a conical face 128 extending beyond the securement lugs 129 and having O-ring type seals for pressure sealing engagement with an outwardly flared face 130 provided by the side outlet 111. Thus a suitable side connection is provided for cable 17 to the contact members within the plug means 12, such side entry permitting exposure of the socket engagement portions 92 of the follower members so that access thereto for turning is readily provided.

In installation of a connector means 10 described above, receptacle means 11 is secured to a supporting structure such as wall 14 in well known manner. Plug means 12 with each connector member 63 is retracted position is then inserted into the chamber 20 of receptacle means 11 in proper alignment as determined by registration pin 41 and slot 40. Securement bolts 42 are then sequentially tightened in a pre-selected order so as to substantially uniformly advance plug means 12 and the resilient portion 56 into pressure engagement with the opposed button resilient portion 35 of the receptacle means. Upon such pressure engagement of the button contacting faces, it will be apparent that fluid is purged from between said faces and is displaced into the annular space 132 between opposed end faces of the carrier means 30 and 54. Excess fluid flows through the annular passageway 133 provided between the interior walls of chamber 20 of the receptacle means and external walls of the plug means 12, such passageway being provided by relatively loose clearance between the plug means 12 and the receptacle means 11. After the securement bolts 42 have been tightened so that the plug means 12 is in a selected initial position, each connector member 63 is then axially advanced by rotation of follower members 72 and by means of a socket wrench engaging the engagement portion 92 on the follower members. The conical head 68 on each connector member 63 pierces in pressure sealing engagement the protective covers between the conical head 68 and the opposed face of connector element 29. Desired electrical contact is determined by any suitable electrical measuring instrument. Thus initial proper electrical contact of each connector member and connector element is assured.

The connector means 10 may be disconnected by withdrawal of securement bolts 42 and upon withdrawal of the plug means 12 from the receptacle means 11 the protective covers over contact elements 29 tend to self seal upon such withdrawal of each conical head. When the connection is made again, the protruding conical heads again pierce the protective covers over the connector elements and are again individually tested for proper electrical contact. It will be understood that during repetitive making and breaking of the contacts, that each time the contact is made, hostile fluid between the protective covers is purged because of the pressure engagement thereof. In the event the relatively soft contactor element becomes deformed at the point of contact with the conical connector head 68 as indicated by electrical testing, the follower element may be further tightened to axially drive the connector members 63 into further pressure engagement with connector element 29.

It will be understood that deformation of the contacting surfaces on connector elements 29 may vary for each connector element and that such variation is readily compensated for by the individual adjustment of each conductor member 63. Repetitive making and breaking of electrical contact between connector member 63 and connector elements 29 may continue until the connector member 63 can no longer be advanced into desired pressure engagement and as restricted by the length of the slot 96 therein. It will be apparent from the construction of the plug means 12 that when such condition occurs disassembly of the carrier body 54 from the connector body 50 is readily accomplished by removing cap means 73, unloosening the carrier body securement screws and withdrawing the carrier body with the connector members 63 from the plug means 12.

It will be understood that various modifications and changes may be made in the construction and operation of the plug means 12 described above and all such changes and modifications come within the scope of the appended claims are embraced hereby.