Since the publication of the first edition of this book there have been some very costly syste failures, which could have been prevented with a better knowledge of electrical contact phenomena. I will give two examples. The first is an electrical connector that supplied power to the “Main Fuel Shut-off Valve” in the F-16 fighter airplane. This connector used tin plated pins plugged into gold plated sockets. As will be briefly discussed in Chapter 3, the failure of this combination from fretting corrosion in the aircraft’s vibration environment caused the fuel to stop flowing to the jet engines.
Several F-16 crashes have been attributed to this connector failure with a subsequent cost of over $100 M. In hindsight it is probable that this pin socket combination used extensively in the earlier F-111 airplane resulted in it cancellation. Failure of the connectors most probably resulted in this plane’s performance changing from a “terrain following” aircraft to a “terrain impacting” one. The second example occurred in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which began its initial testing in September 2008.
Soon after it began to operate, a connection to a 12 MVA transformer failed. This cut power to the main compressors that operated the cryogenic system for cooling the super conducting magnets in two sections. This failure caused extensive wiring damage that cost more than $20 M to repair and set back the initial operation of this expensive experimental system by about nine months. I began my studies in the fascinating world of electrical contacts as a graduate student at the University of Wales in the mid-1960s.
Since that time, I have been involved with electrical contacts both as a research scientist and as a developer of switching components. Even though the subject is as old as electricity, it has continued to evolve. To those of us who have continued working in this field, it has provided a stimulating and ever-expanding subject for research. It has, however, always been—and still is—on the periphery of other major technology achievements. which have been essential for the successful development of the communication satellite.
Experts in electrical contact technology can cite many such examples. In fact, electrical contacts of one type or another are found in every electrical component, and the proper operation of the contacts is always vital to the reliable operation of that component. The subject of electrical contacts is by necessity multidisciplinary. No matter which academic career you initially begin with, as soon as you start working in this area, you soon develop a good general knowledge of many others.
The study of electrical contacts requires knowledge of physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, materials science, and environmental science. It also requires a broad applications knowledge; contacts can be found in electronic circuits that may carry currents of less than 10–6 A and also in power circuits that may carry currents of greater than 106 A. The aim of this book is to provide information on the current state of electrical contact science and engineering to practicing scientists and engineers, as well as to provide a comprehensive introduction to the subject for technology graduate students.
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