(19)
(11)EP 1 878 619 A1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT APPLICATION

(43)Date of publication:
16.01.2008 Bulletin 2008/03

(21)Application number: 07013393.9

(22)Date of filing:  09.07.2007
(51)Int. Cl.: 
B60R 16/027  (2006.01)
H01R 35/02  (2006.01)
(84)Designated Contracting States:
AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MT NL PL PT RO SE SI SK TR
Designated Extension States:
AL BA HR MK YU

(30)Priority: 13.07.2006 JP 2006193090

(71)Applicant: ALPS ELECTRIC CO., LTD.
Tokyo 145-8501 (JP)

(72)Inventor:
  • Asakura, Toshiaki
    Ota-ku Tokyo 145-8501 (JP)

(74)Representative: Klunker . Schmitt-Nilson . Hirsch 
Winzererstrasse 106
80797 München
80797 München (DE)

  


(54)Rotatable connector


(57) A rotatable connector includes a stator member having an outer cylindrical portion; a rotor member having an inner cylindrical portion and rotatably supported by the stator member; three or more flat cables received in an annular space defined between the outer cylindrical portion and the inner cylindrical portion, the winding direction of each flat cable being reversed halfway, and both ends of each flat cable being fixed to the stator member and the rotor member, respectively; and a holder rotatably disposed in the annular space and having three or more openings through which the reversed portions of the flat cables individually passes. A width in the circumferential direction of a first opening among the three or more openings is set smaller than a width in the circumferential direction of a second opening different from the first opening, the holder rotates in response to a pressing force applied from the flat cable passing through the first opening, and a bending strength of the flat cable passing through the first opening is set greater than those of the other flat cables passing through the second opening.







Description

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED PATENT APPLICATION



[0001] This application claims the priority of Japanese Patent Application No. 2006-193090, filed on July 13, 2006, the entire contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION


1. Field of the Invention



[0002] The present invention relates to a rotatable connector that is incorporated in an automobile steering system for electrical connection of an airbag system. More particularly, the invention relates to a rotatable connector in which three or more flat cables are received in an annular space defined between a stator member and a rotor member in a state that the winding direction of each flat cable is reversed via a reversed portion.

2. Description of the Related Art



[0003] In a conventional rotatable connector, a rotor member having an inner cylindrical portion is rotatably supported by a stator member having an outer cylindrical portion. In the rotatable connector, flat cables are wound and received in an annular space between the outer cylindrical portion and the inner cylindrical portion. The rotatable connector is used as means for providing electrical connection to an airbag system, an inflator, or the like that are built in a steering wheel having a limited number of rotations, which is incorporated in an automobile steering system. The flat cables are made of a band-shaped member having a conductor contained in an insulating film. Two types of rotatable connectors are known. One is wound in a spiral form and the other is wound in a halfway reversed form. The latter, i.e., the reversed type rotatable connecter, can be made substantially shorter than the former. Therefore, the reversed type rotatable connector is widespread. The reversed type rotatable connector normally has one flat cable. Recently, a rotatable connector has been proposed in which a conductor is divided into several pieces corresponding to two or more flat cables in order to cope with a trend toward a multi-circuit configuration. Such a rotatable connector is disclosed in JP-A-10-116672, for example.

[0004] Fig. 4 is a top plan view of a known rotatable connector disclosed in JP-A-10-116672. The rotatable connector includes a stator member 100 having an outer cylindrical portion 100a, a rotor member 101 having an inner cylindrical portion 101a and rotatably supported at the central position of the stator member 100, a ring-shaped holder 103 rotatably disposed in an annular space 102 between the outer cylindrical portion 100a and the inner cylindrical portion 101a, and first and second flat cables 104 and 105 received in the annular space 102 in a state that a winding direction of each cable is reversed halfway. In the holder 103, a pair of stationary tubes 106 is erected, a plurality of rollers 107 are rotatably supported, and the stationary tubes 106 are opposed to each other while maintaining a predetermined gap with respect to one of the rollers 107 in the circumferential direction. A first opening 108 is defined in a gap between one of the stationary tubes 106 and the roller 107 opposite the one stationary tube 106. A second opening 109 is defined in a gap between the other stationary tube 106 and the roller 107 opposite the other stationary tube 106. A width in the circumferential direction of the first opening 108 is set smaller than a width in the circumferential direction of the second opening 109.

[0005] The first flat cable 104 and the second flat cable 105 are made of a band-shaped member having a plurality of conductors contained in an insulating film such as PET. In the drawing, the first flat cable 104 is shaded with black and the second flat cable 105 is unshaded, for convenience. The outer end of each of the flat cables 104 and 105 is connected to a stationary joint 110 provided in the outer cylindrical portion 100a and is electrically led out from the stator member 100 to the outside through the stationary joint 110. In addition, the inner end of each of the flat cables 104 and 105 is connected to a movable joint 111 and is electrically led out from the rotor member 101 to the outside through the movable joint 111. In a state that the first flat cable 104 is disposed on the outer side, the flat cables 104 and 105 are wound around an inner peripheral wall of the outer cylindrical portion 100a in a counterclockwise direction from the stationary joint 110. Then, the flat cables 104 and 105 are branched off. Specifically, the first flat cable 104 passes through the first opening 108 with a small width, and is reversely wound in a U shape around one of the rollers 107 (this portion of the flat cable will be referred to as reversed portion 104a). Meanwhile, the second flat cable 105 passes through the second opening 109 with a large width, and is reversely wound in a U shape around another roller 107 (this portion of the flat cable will be referred to as reversed portion 105a). Then, the first and second flat cables 104 and 105 are wound around an outer peripheral wall of the inner cylindrical portion 101a in a clockwise direction in a state that the second flat cable 105 is disposed on the outer side. Then, the flat cables 104 and 105 are led to the movable joint 111 and are received in the annular space 102.

[0006] In the rotatable connector having such a configuration, when the rotor member 101 rotates in a counterclockwise direction from a neutral position (in an arrow A direction in Fig. 4), the reversed portions 104a and 105a of the first and second flat cables 104 and 105 move in the arrow A direction by an amount smaller than the rotation amount of the rotor member 101. Then, the holder 103 also moves in the arrow A direction accompanied by the movement of the reversed portions 104a and 105a. As a result, the flat cables 104 and 105 are led out from the outer peripheral wall of the inner cylindrical portion 100a by an amount approximately twice as long as the movement of the reversed portions. Then, the flat cables are wound around the inner peripheral wall of the outer peripheral portion 101a. In this case, the reversed portion 105a of the second flat cable 105 having a large-diameter winding portion moves faster than the reversed portion 104a of the first flat cable 104 having a small-diameter winding portion. However, as mentioned above, since the width of the first opening 108 is smaller than that of the second opening 109 as previously stated, the reversed portions 104a and 105a press the stationary tube 106 facing each of the openings 108 and 109, and the holder 103 receives the pressing force from the reversed portions 104a and 105a. Accordingly, the holder 103 rotates in the annular space 102 in the arrow A direction.

[0007] To the contrary, when the rotor member 101 rotates in a clockwise direction from the neutral position (the arrow B direction in Fig. 4), the reversed portions 104a and 105a of the flat cables 104 and 105 move in the arrow B direction by an amount smaller than the rotation amount of the rotor member 101. The holder 103, also moves in the arrow B direction accompanied by the movement of the reversed portions 104a and 105a. As a result, the flat cables 104 and 105 are led from the inner peripheral wall of the outer cylindrical portion 100a by an amount approximately twice as long as the amount of the movement of the reversed portions 104a and 105a. Then, the flat cables are wound around the outer peripheral wall of the inner cylindrical portion 101a. In this case, the reversed portion 105a of the second flat cable 105 having a large-diameter winding portion moves faster than the reversed portion 104a of the first flat cable 104 having a small-diameter winding portion. However, since the width of the first opening 108 is set smaller than that of the second opening 109, the reversed portions 104a and 105a attract the roller 107 facing each of the openings 108 and 109, and the holder 103 receives the attracting force from the reversed portions 104a and 105a. Accordingly, the holder 103 rotates in the annular space 102 in the arrow B direction.

[0008] In the known rotational connector described above, when the rotor member 101 rotates in the arrow A direction and the flat cables 104 and 105 are wound around the inner peripheral wall side of the outer cylindrical portion 100a, an output force is continuously generated in the arrow F direction in Fig. 5 at a contact portion with the roller 107 of the first flat cable 104 passing through the first opening 108. Among the components of the output force F indicated by the arrow Fx and the arrow Fy, the force component in the arrow Fx direction serves as a pressing force that allows the holder 103 to rotate. Meanwhile, the force component in the arrow Fy direction serves as a force that allows the reversed portion 104a of the first flat cable 104 to be pressed toward the outer cylindrical portion 100a side. Although the detailed descriptions thereof are omitted, the same statements can be applied to the case of the second flat cable 105 passing through the second opening 109. In addition, when the normal rewinding operation is performed, the component in the arrow Fx direction is greater than the force component in the arrow Fy direction. Accordingly, when the reversed portion 104a of the first flat cable 104 passes through the first opening 108, the reversed portion 104a presses the stationary tube 106 in a rotation direction (the arrow A direction). Similarly, when the reversed portion 105a of the second flat cable 105 passes the second opening 109, the reversed portion 105a presses the stationary tube 106 in a rotation direction. Accordingly, the holder 103 receives the pressing force from the reversed portions 104a and 105a and rotates smoothly in the arrow A direction.

[0009] However, in the known rotatable connector, it is difficult to set the respective widths of the openings so that the stationary tube facing the respective openings is pressed by the reversed portions, when three or more flat cables rotate in a counterclockwise direction while reversing the winding directions at three or more openings. When the rotor member rotates in a clockwise direction, it is difficult to set the respective widths of the openings so that the reversed portions of the respective flat cables attract the roller facing the respective openings. In addition, depending on the respective settings on the widths of the openings, driving forces applied to holder from the reversed portion of the respective flat cables may be interfere with each other. Accordingly, it is difficult to perform the smooth winding operation and rewinding operation.

[0010] Accordingly, when the widths of the openings are set such that the holder is only driven by the reversed portion of the flat cable passing through the small-width opening, an excessive amount of stress is applied to the reversed portion of the flat cable passing through the small-width opening. In the small-width opening, a frictional resistance may increase excessively between the flat cable and the roller. Accordingly, the force component in the arrow Fx direction shown in Fig. 5 is lowered by the frictional resistance. As a result, the force component in the arrow Fy direction may be increased greater than the force component in the arrow Fx direction. Consequently, the movement of the reversed portion of the flat cable in the arrow A direction may be interrupted in the small-width passage. Thus the holder can not be driven smoothly. In the small-width passage in which the rotational movement of the reversed portion of the flat cable is interrupted, the reversed portion is forcibly inserted into a space of the opening. As a result, the flat cable is complexly bent, curved or buckled, or the conductor carried in an insulating film of the flat cable is broken. Specifically, when an environment temperature increases high, such a problem may occur frequently.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION



[0011] The present invention solves the above-mentioned problems. An object of the invention is to provide a rotatable connector capable of realizing a smooth winding and rewinding operation even with three or more flat cables.

[0012] According to an aspect of the invention, a rotatable connector includes a stator member having an outer cylindrical portion; a rotor member having an inner cylindrical portion and rotatably supported by the stator member; three or more flat cables received in an annular space defined between the outer cylindrical portion and the inner cylindrical portion, a winding direction of each flat cable being reversed halfway, and both ends of each flat cable being fixed to the stator member and the rotor member, respectively; and a holder rotatably disposed in the annular space and having three or more openings through which the reversed portions of the flat cables individually passes. A width in the circumferential direction of a first opening among the three or more openings is set smaller than a width in the circumferential direction of a second opening different from the first opening, the holder rotates in response to a pressing force applied from the flat cable passing through the first opening, and a bending strength of the flat cable passing through the first opening is set greater than those of the other flat cables passing through the second opening.

[0013] A bending strength of the cable is set greater than that of the flat cable passing through the second opening. With such a configuration, it is possible that the flat cable passing through the first opening is prevented from buckling, so that the holder is smoothly operated. Accordingly, even when three or more flat cables are used, it is possible to realize a rotatable connector capable of realizing a smooth winding and rewinding operation. In addition, the rotatable connector may be securely used under the environment having a high temperature.

[0014] With such a configuration, an insulation film of the flat cable passing through the first opening can be made of a material in which it is difficult to be prevented from buckling more than that of the flat cables passing through the second opening. However, when all the flat cables are formed of the same materials and a thickness of a flat cable passing through the first opening is set greater than those of the flat cables passing through the second opening, it is possible to uniform a frictional resistance between the respective flat cables.

[0015] In the rotatable connector, when the widths in the circumferential direction of the second opening are set greater than the width in the circumferential direction of the first opening by 4.5 times or more, a force applied to the holder from the reversed portion of three or more flat cables is not interposed to each other. With such a configuration, it is possible to realize a rotatable connector capable of realizing a smooth winding and rewinding operation.

[0016] The rotatable connector of the invention includes a flat cable which passes through the first opening and applies a pressing force to the holder in a rotatable direction among three or more flat cables, and a bending strength of the flat cable is set greater than those of the flat cables passing through the other opening. With such a configuration, it is possible to prevent the flat cable from buckling and operate smoothly the holder. In addition, the rotatable connector may be securely used under the environment having a high temperature.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



[0017] The above and other features and advantages of the present invention will become more apparent by describing in detail exemplary embodiments thereof with reference to the attached drawings in which:

Fig. 1 is a transverse cross sectional view illustrating a rotatable connector according to an embodiment.

Fig. 2 is a longitudinal sectional view illustrating the rotatable connector according to the embodiment.

Fig. 3 is an explanation view illustrating a length relationship between a flat cable and an opening of a holder provided in the rotatable connector according to the embodiment.

Fig. 4 is a plan view illustrating the rotatable connector according to a prior art invention.

Fig. 5 is an explanation view illustrating a problem of a rotatable connector proposed in the prior art invention.


DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS



[0018] Embodiments of the invention will be described with reference to the attached drawings. Fig. 1 is a transverse cross sectional view illustrating a rotation connector according to an embodiment. Fig. 2 is a longitudinal sectional view illustrating the rotation connector. Fig. 3 is an explanation view illustrating a length relationship between a flat cable and an opening of a holder, which is provided in the rotation connector.

[0019] The rotatable connector of the present embodiment includes a stator member 1, a rotor member 2 rotatably connected to the stator member 1, flat cables 3, 4 connected between the stator member 1 and the rotor member 2, a holder 5 made of a synthetic resin, which is disposed in the inside of the stator member 1 and the rotor member 2.

[0020] The stator member 1 is a fixed side member provided in a steering column and includes a lower plate 1a of a synthetic resins and an outer cylindrical portion member 1b which is an outer cylindrical portion. In the center of the lower plate 1a, a center hole 1c is formed, the outer cylindrical portion member 1b is integrally formed in an outer peripheral edge of the lower plate 1a. In addition, in an outer peripheral surface of the outer cylindrical member 1b, an extension portion 1d protruding from the outer edge is integrally formed and a stationary side joint 6 is provided in the inside of the extension portion 1d.

[0021] The rotor member 2 is a movable member and the rotor member 2 is formed of a top plate portion 2a and an outer cylindrical portion 2b integrally by a synthetic resin. The top plate 2a is formed of a ring shape so as to face the lower plate 1a and the inner cylindrical portion 2b droops from the center of the top plate 2a. The inner cylindrical portion 2b includes a length capable of inserting to a steering shaft and a pair of movable joint 7 is provided in the inside of the inner cylindrical portion 2b. In addition, by inserting the center hole 1c of the lower portion of the inner cylindrical portion 2b, the rotor member 2 is rotatably connected to the stator member 1. With such a configuration, by the lower plate 1a of the stator member 1, the top plate 2a of the rotor member 2 of the outer cylindrical portion 1b, and the inner cylindrical portion 2b, an annular space 8 having a ring shaped is defined.

[0022] Each of the flat cables 3, 4 is a band-shaped member in which a conductor is contained in an insulating film made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate). The respective flat cables 3 and 4 are stored in an opposite direction in the annular space 8 through the U-shaped reversed portions 3a and 4a. However, a thickness t1 of the flat cable 3 is set approximately two times thicker than a thickness t2 of the flat cables 4 (for example of the embodiment, t1=0.22 mm, t2=0.11 mm). With such a configuration, a bending strength of the flat cable 3 (an elastic limit) is set sufficiently greater than those of the flat cables 4. The outer end portion of the respective cables 3 and 4 are connected to the stationary side joint 6 and are electrically connected to the outside of the stator member 1 through the stationary side joint 6. In addition, an inner end portion of the respective flat cables 3 and 4 are divided into a pair of the movable joint 7 and are connected electrically to the outside of the rotor member 2 through the movable joint 7.

[0023] The holder 5 includes an annular housing plate 5a mounted on the lower plate 1a of the stator member 1, a plurality of guide walls 5b provided on the annular housing plate 5a, and a plurality of spindles 5c. In the respective spindles 5c, a roller 9 is rotatably supported. One roller 9 of roller 9 group is faced to the guide wall 5b through the first opening 10 and the reversed portion 3a of the flat cable 3 is disposed in the inside of the first opening 10. In addition, respective the three rollers 9 of roller 9 group are opposite to the guide wall 5b through the second opening 11 respectively, and the respective reversed portions 4a of three flat cables 4 are disposed in the second opening 11, respectively. Herein, when a width w1 of a circumferential direction of the first opening 10 is set to a width w2 of a circumferential direction of the second opening 11, w1 is sufficiently set smaller than w2 (in the embodiment, w1=2 mm, w2=11 mm). With such a configuration, when the rotor member 2 rotates in the arrow A direction in Fig. 1, only the reversed portion 3a of the flat cable 3 presses the guide wall 5b in the rotatable direction.

[0024] In the embodiment, the width w2 of the second opening 11 is set by 5.5 times than the width w1 of the first opening 10. However, it is preferable that the value is set by 4.5 times or more. In addition, the width w2 is set less than 4.5 times of the width w1. Accordingly, when the rotor member 2 rotes in a counterclockwise direction, the reversed portion 3a of the flat cable 3 passing through the first opening 10 presses the guide wall 5b so as to operate the holder 5. However, a part of the reversed portion 4a of the flat cable 4 comes in contact with the roller 9 facing the second opening 11 and the reversed portion 3a of the flat cable 3 operates in an opposite direction of which the operation direction is opposite to an operation direction of the holder 5. Accordingly, the rotation of the holder 5 may not be smoothly performed. In addition, when the rotor member 2 rotes in a clockwise direction, the reversed portion 3a of the flat cable 3 passing through the first opening 10 is pulled so as to move the holder 5. However, a part of the reversed portion 4a of the flat cable 4 comes in contact with the guide wall 5b and the reversed portion 3a of the flat cable 3 moves in an opposite direction of which the operation direction is opposite to an operation direction of the holder 5. Accordingly, the rotation of the holder 5 may not be smoothly performed.

[0025] In the rotatable connector as described above, the stator member 1 is installed to a steering column, the rotatable connector is mounted in a steering device of an automobile in a state that the rotor member 2 is connected to a handle. The rotatable connector is used as electrical connecting means of an air bag inflator or a horn circuit mounted on the steering wheel of the automobile. When a driver handles the steering wheel in a clockwise direction or a counterclockwise direction, the rotation force is delivered to the rotor member 2. Accordingly, the rotor member 2 rotates in the clockwise direction or the counterclockwise direction.

[0026] For example, when the rotor member 2 rotates in the counterclockwise direction (in the arrow A direction of Fig. 1) from the neutral position, the reversed portions 3a and 4a of all the flat cables 3 and 4 moves in the arrow A direction by a smaller amount of rotation than the rotor member 2. The holder 5 moves in the arrow A direction following the reversed portions 3a and 4a. At this time, the reversed portion 3a of the flat cable 3 passing through the first opening 10 comes in contact with the guide wall 5b. However, since the respective portions 4a of the three flat cables 4 passing through the second opening 11 don't come in contact with the guide walls 5b respectively. Accordingly, the holder 5 receives the pressing force from the reversed portion 3a of the flat cable 3 so as to rotate in the annular space 8 in the arrow A direction. As a result, the flat cables 3 and 4 are fed out approximately twice as long as the counterclockwise movement from the outer peripheral wall of the inner cylindrical portion 2b, being wound on the inner peripheral wall side of the outer peripheral portion 1b.

[0027] Conversely to the above-described, when the rotor member 2 turns clockwise from the neutral position (the arrow B direction in Fig. 1), the reversed portions 3a and 4a of the flat cables 3 and 4 move in the arrow B direction by a smaller amount of rotation than the rotor member 2, and accordingly the holder 5, following the movement of the reversed portions 3a and 4a, moves in the arrow B direction. In this case, the reversed portions 3a and 4a are looped to the roller 9 so as to be wound around the outer peripheral wall of the inner cylindrical portion 2b. The holder 5 receives a force only from the reversed portion 3a and moves in the annular space 8 in the arrow B direction. Consequently, the flat cables 3 and 4 about twice as long as the amount of movement of the reversed portions 3a and 4a are fed out from the inner peripheral wall side of the outer cylindrical portion 1b, being wound around the outer peripheral wall of the inner cylindrical portion 2b.

[0028] In the rotatable connector according to the embodiment, a flat cable 3 passing through the first opening 10 comes in contact with the guide wall 5b or the roller 9 so as to apply the pressing force in the rotatable direction to the holder 5 as the flat cable 3. However, other three flat cables passing through the second opening 11 having a large-width do not come in contact with the guide wall 5b. Since the flat cable 3 is made of the same material as the flat cable 4 and has a thickness by two times than that of the flat cable 4, a flat cable 3 has a greater bending strength (an elastic limit) than those of the flat cables 4. Accordingly, even if a frictional force between the flat cable 3 and the roller 9 is increases and a force which pushes the reversed portion 3a toward the inner peripheral wall of the outer cylindrical portion 1b is more than a pressing force to traveling direction of the reversed portion 3a when the rotor member 2 rotates in the arrow A direction and the flat cables 3 and 4 are wound around the inner peripheral wall of the outer cylindrical portion 1b, it is possible to prevent the flat cable 3 from buckling and moves the holder 5 smoothly in the rotatable direction. In this case, the reversed portion 4a of the flat cable 4 passes through the second opening 11 by the rotation of the holder 5 so as to be surely wound around the inner peripheral wall side of the outer cylindrical portion 1b. With such a configuration, even when four flat cables 3 and 4 are used, it is possible to realize smooth winding and rewinding operation. In addition, the rotatable connector may be securely used under the environment having a high temperature.

[0029] In addition, the invention may be applied to a rotatable connector by using one flat cable passing through the first opening and two flat cables passing through the second openings respectively.

[0030] While the preferred embodiments of this rotatable connector has been disclosed, it will be appreciated that various modifications may be without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.


Claims

1. A rotatable connector comprising:

a stator member having an outer cylindrical portion;

a rotor member having an inner cylindrical portion and rotatably supported by the stator member;

three or more flat cables received in an annular space defined between the outer cylindrical portion and the inner cylindrical portion, a winding direction of each flat cable being reversed halfway, and both ends of each flat cable being fixed to the stator member and the rotor member, respectively; and

a holder rotatably disposed in the annular space and having three or more openings through which the reversed portions of the flat cables individually passes,

wherein a width in the circumferential direction of a first opening among the three or more openings is set smaller than a width in the circumferential direction of a second opening different from the first opening, the holder rotates in response to a pressing force applied from the flat cable passing through the first opening, and a bending strength of the flat cable passing through the first opening is set greater than those of the other flat cables passing through the second opening.
 
2. The rotatable connector according to Claim 1,
wherein the flat cables are made of a band-shaped member having a conductor contained in an insulating film made of the same material, and a thickness of the flat cable passing through the first opening is set greater than those of the other second flat cables.
 
3. The rotatable connector according to Claim 1 or 2,
wherein the width in the circumferential direction of the second opening is 4.5 times or more greater than the width in the circumferential direction of the first opening.
 




Drawing



















REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

Patent documents cited in the description