Frank Wodoslawsky, President and CEO of Weinschel Associates, talked to Microwave Journal about his company's past, present and future. Wodoslawsky joined the company in May of 2002. A graduate of The Citadel with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Wodoslawsky went on to join the US Air Force where he was an F-16C pilot. Upon transitioning to the Air National Guard, located at Andrews Air Force Base, MD, he was able acquire a senior management position inside Weinschel Associates. First a little company history.
Dr. Bruno Weinschel was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919, and immigrated to the United States in 1938. He was an inventor, holding 20 US patents in insertion loss microwave measurements and an author of 52 technical journal articles. He also served on this magazine’s editorial review board, was a president of the IEEE, chaired the Committee on US Competitiveness for the IEEE (1988) and was a recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science under President Reagan.
A brilliant and self-confident physicist, Weinschel was a supervisory engineer with Bell Laboratories (1943 to 1944), Chief Engineer at Industrial Instruments (1944 to 1948), and Section Chief at the National Bureau of Standards (1949 to 1952). After selling Weinschel Engineering to Lucas in the late 1980s, Weinschel founded Weinschel Associates in 1989. That company proudly carries on the name of its famous founder and the tradition of excellent engineering that was Weinschel’s trademark.
MWJ: Weinschel Associates will be celebrating its 20th year of operations. How has the company changed since the beginning and how is it the same?
FW: The company has greatly expanded its product offering especially in the 18 to 40 GHz areas. We have also moved into the programmable attenuator product area to offer customers a performance value based on utilizing industry standard interfaces (USB, RS-232, TCP/IP, etc.). Weinschel Associates still manufactures our products using the same proven processes developed by Dr. Weinschel. We have made improvements in the equipment and accuracy of the process but have been careful not to degrade the high-performance nature of our core technologies.
MWJ: Have you retained a lot of your engineering talent over the years?
FW: We have been able to retain some of the original engineers and production personnel that worked with Dr. Weinschel. In addition, we have also been able to add quality staff trained the “Weinschel” way to ensure the products we manufacture retain the performance and reliability that our customers have come to expect and demand.
MWJ: Is the company involved in a lot of custom engineering work?
FW: Yes we are. In addition to providing custom solutions for development initiatives we have recently begun to offer a legacy replacement/upgrade service. Many of the older microwave products manufactured and installed in a variety of systems are no longer available. With our extensive background in the RF industry we are able to provide form/fit/function replacements for many of the obsolete products.
MWJ: Which of your products get the lion’s share of your customer’s attention?
FW: We continue to focus on our line of passive components: attenuators, terminations, dividers and splitters which is the majority of our current business. However, we are seeing an increase in our variable and programmable attenuator lines as customers begin to use these in custom solutions they are providing to their end-users.
MWJ: What are some of the types of projects that would require a custom solution?
FW: Custom solutions are generally driven by legacy requirements no longer supported by the original manufacturer, emergent requirements pushing the boundaries of power handling versus frequency, or higher level integration requirements. We are seeing a trend towards increased power handling requirements versus frequency as transmitter technologies continue to improve.
MWJ: What’s your mix of commercial versus defense applications?
FW: We are very fortunate to have a well balanced commercial versus defense break down in our deliveries. This has allowed us to weather the various cycles in both of those markets.
MWJ: How would you describe the relationship between Weinschel Associates and its customers? Do your engineers work closely with your customers?
FW: We have a close relationship with all our customers to include the ever increasing international customer base. We put our engineers in direct contact with our customers to help resolve issues and assist them in providing reliable and cost-effective RF/microwave solutions for their end-users.
MWJ: What sets Weinschel Associates apart from other companies offering similar products?
FW: I believe we have two distinct advantages. First is our willingness to offer personal service and care regardless of order size. We have no minimum order requirements. The second is the absolutely great product from a price, performance and reliability standpoint. Dr. Weinschel and his team developed outstanding processes for producing a quality product and we continue that tradition. We continue to offer a two (2) year warranty on all of our products.
MWJ: What kind of performance challenges do your engineers face on a regular basis?
FW: The boundary of power versus frequency is continually being pushed. New materials, new processing techniques, and advances in precision machining capabilities are providing opportunities for our engineers to innovate while maintaining the integrity of our core technologies.
MWJ: What’s most important these days – price, size, reliability or performance?
FW: Based on customer feedback I would have to say that reliability is the most important aspect of our product line. Having a product you can count on to work as designed will always save on engineering and trouble shooting time. This reliability translates directly into cost saving for our customers.
We do recognize however that we need to continue to provide cost competitive solutions for our customers. That is one thing we are continuing to do from an engineering side. We are constantly revisiting how we can make our products better and more cost effective in the market place.
MWJ: Is your company’s size an advantage or disadvantage in today’s economy? Why?
FW: We believe our size is an advantage. Our ability to control costs and adapt to changing market demands is enhanced by the low drag of our streamlined operation. An example of the result would be our ability to absorb the recent run-up in precious metal costs like Gold. Some of our competitors added a “Gold” charge to their products while we were able to hold the line on our prices and in some cases offer price reductions.
MWJ: That’s interesting. The cost of gold certainly is on the rise in today’s uncertain economy. The company also develops software used to integrate your hardware into various systems. Could you comment on how your hardware and software might interrelate?
FW: Often we find the RF engineers we interface with have questions on how best to integrate our programmable products into their solutions. Since I come from a background in software systems engineering I made it a priority to ensure that our staff is well versed in the software integration side. This allows our customer a better chance to cost effectively integrate our products without spending engineering dollars in an area where they might not have expertise. We provide, free of charge, a wide range of software drivers and interface code to ease the transition to use of a standards based software environment. We also offer custom software solutions for those customers that need a more complex or demanding integrated solution.
One of the strengths of our new programmable attenuator line is the ability to program custom operations embedded in the digital attenuator itself and then initiate these from a single command. This helps off-load processing and ease application development for our customers.
MWJ: What markets are looking most promising in 2009?
FW: Our focus for the coming year is to continue to develop higher end products in response to customer requests. One particular area of development is our programmable line of digital attenuators. We also hope to add a new line of passive devices later in the year but I am not ready to introduce the specifics on those products yet. Please keep checking our website for that information.
MWJ: What are your thoughts on globalization with regards to both selling and manufacturing your products?
FW: We continue to see an increase in our global business as more companies move their manufacturing overseas. Typically we often deal with a US company developing the initial prototypes here in the US and then get handed off to their manufacturing operations located outside the US. We have seen an increase in direct interaction with the engineering departments of larger companies located outside the US. However, we continue to manufacture our products here in the US due to US defense department requirements as well as our ability to control our internal cost structure and protect our core technologies. Moving off-shore has not made economic sense for us.