Innovations for the SatCom Market
Klaus-Dieter Beck was born in Munich in1966. He attained a Dip. Ing degree in RF engineering and also earned a Diploma in antenna engineering for a broadband UHF antenna panel. He joined Spinner as a sales engineer in 1995, holding positions in Australia and South East Asia before taking up his current post in 2008.
MWJ: Can you give a brief history of SPINNER since it began manufacturing RF components in 1946?
Beck: In the late ’40s SPINNER started the development and production of 60 Ω connectors. At that time the 6-16 connector, the forerunner of today’s most widely used 7-16 connector family was developed. Mobile communication as we know it today would not have been possible without these connectors.
In the early 1960s we began development of the first single and dual channel rotary joints and at the end of that decade the company entered the field of high energy physics. One of the highlights of the ’70 s was SPINNER’s development of a complete antenna feeding network, including energy transmission lines for a polar lights research project (EISCAT), followed by many waveguide switching plants for earth-satellite ground stations. We also supplied combiners for broadcast transmission systems all over Europe.
The 1980s saw the expansion into vacuum technology for coaxial components, when SPINNER supplied and installed the complete waveguide transmission systems for the LEP-Linac. Today, we are key suppliers to many research institutes like DESY, CEA Caderache and CRPP Lausanne.
In the early ’90 s SPINNER was the first company to offer factory made jumper cables, which was a huge boost to the fast moving rollout of the mobile communication infrastructure because they offered high performance and saved installation time on site. Over the years the defence side (mainly rotary joints and filters) has grown significantly and become a cornerstone of the business.
SPINNER Telecommunication Devices (Shanghai) Co., Ltd was established in the late 1990s. The introduction of a Mobile Network Combining System (MNCS) as the first fully passive combining system, which was delivered factory tested to the transmission site, was another innovation. In Singapore, for example, the company equipped more than 100 sites with this system.
SPINNER has grown to become the biggest supplier of broadcast combining and filtering equipment worldwide. In 2005, together with our cooperation partner Schleifring and Apparatebau GMBH, we developed the most compact multichannel fibre optic rotary joint, which today is capable of accommodating 21 separate transmission channels.
MWJ: What were the particular challenges facing a German manufacturer striving to become established immediately after World War II?
Beck: In 1946 Georg Spinner could only establish an Engineering Consulting Office, because he was not allowed to start a manufacturing business. He earned his living more or less repairing radios and very often got paid with eggs or a pound of butter, which was very convenient, because everybody was very hungry at that time.
After the ‘Währungsreform’ in1948 he was able to get a license to manufacture: so ‘Spinner Physikalische Geräte’ was founded. The first products were measuring devices for the Technical University in Munich and some other customers, which were manufactured in the backyard of his parent’s house. In 1952 SPINNER had about 20 employees and moved into its own building. It has been growing ever since.
MWJ: More recently, did the unification of East and West Germany have an impact on SPINNER commercially or economically?
Beck: That is already a long time ago and for us it was like getting back to normal everyday life. Economically though, it was both a challenge and a great opportunity. In 1990 SPINNER Lauenstein GmbH, near Dresden, was established and became part of the SPINNER family straight away, helped by the fact that the mentality of Bavarians and the people of Saxony are very similar. The factory has continued to expand and today it is the backbone of our mobile communication business, together with our factories in Shanghai, China and Atlanta, USA.
MWJ: Moving on from politics. What is the basic philosophy of the company and has it changed over the years?
Beck: Our key objective is to stay as an independent privately owned company, which enables us to be flexible enough to react quickly in this fast changing world. All our business is based on taking a long term perspective as we would rather grow a little slower but on a solid basis. SPINNER is known for high quality and innovative products that we have developed at the right time and which have continuously set the standard in the field of passive RF components. The company is also very competitive and offers additional technological benefits.
MWJ: You have recently introduced two new rotary joint families for SatCom applications. What prompted this development and explain what it adds to the company’s portfolio?
Beck: The aim was to bring the expertise and more than 50 years of experience in manufacturing rotary joints and other RF components for the defence market to these more commercial applications. For SPINNER this is an important market as it is more constant in its demands compared to the defence industry. The two new families cover dual (coax) and single (waveguide) channel versions.
MWJ: Is the SatCom market particularly important to SPINNER?
Beck: Yes, as many of our main customers are moving into this market, we are continuing to support them with our products. The requirements are now moving from very simple, receive only, applications to bidirectional systems. As communication is going broadband, reliable performance is becoming more and more important. That is where we can add benefit to the market.
If anyone wants to make phone calls or surf the web in remote places, where network coverage is not available or when on the sea, in the air or on the road they will need ‘SatCom on the move’ and these systems use our rotary joints.
MWJ: What are the other key markets that the company is focused on?
Beck: As I have already indicated our product diversification is huge but besides the radar and SatCom business we focus on four major markets – mobile communication, broadcast, industry and science. In all these markets we provide high end passive RF products.
MWJ: SPINNER has production facilities in Germany, USA and China. What is the philosophy behind developing manufacturing sites across the globe?
Beck: We produce in the region for the region but cost factors also drive our decisions as to where we manufacture. China is our main hub for all commercial business we do in Asia, where we are mainly focussed on the mobile communication and broadcast markets. The Atlanta factory covers the same markets for the Americas region. Both factories are also our local service and sales hubs for these regions. However, it is strict company policy that all defence related products and projects are only developed and manufactured in Germany.
MWJ: Is there interaction between these sites regarding R&D, product integration etc?
Beck: Definitely, very close interaction is required to provide a continuous high level of quality and support to the customers throughout the marketplace, no matter which facility manufactures the products. China has a small R&D group which develops customised products for the global mobile communication and broadcast markets. As we are in a ‘linked world’, we use these capabilities to shorten product development times and can thus reduce the time to market, both for us and our customers.
In the US, R&D is on the way, which will again put us in a better position and enable us to act faster for our local customers. Building these R&D centres, brings us closer to our customers around the globe.
MWJ: Do you develop and market products for specific geographic markets and if so to what extent?
Beck: As most of our customer’s operate globally, there are not many products that are designed particularly for one specific market or region. Nevertheless regions and markets do have their own preferences and as we are dealing with the OEMs we rely on personal contact with the customer to develop innovative products together. This has proven to be successful in the past and I am confident that it will be in the future too.
MWJ: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a European headquartered company operating in a global market?
Beck:Being European, especially German based is still a benefit. Many of the major OEMs in our markets are European based and ‘Made in Germany’ is still valued. In markets like the US being a European based company can sometimes make business a little more difficult but in Asian markets our experience has been quite positive. If we are competing with Asian vendors, being a German supplier can make the difference to winning a project.
MWJ: Apart from SatCom what other sectors are you currently investing in with regards to new products?
Beck: SatCom also covers space rotary joints, which requires a completely different product development process that is driven by the environmental requirements of space. SPINNER is in the ideal position to provide the highest grade of integration of slip rings, waveguides and coax and/or fibre optic rotary joints for defence systems, whether ground, sea or air based. As all radar systems are reaching higher resolutions, Ethernet transmission systems are becoming more important. Another major market we are focussing on is rotary joints for ATC radars.
SPINNER is also strongly committed to being a leading supplier of broadcast combining equipment to continuously improve product performance and the value we bring to our customers. New filters, switches for DVB-T and radar applications, are on the way and a complete new line of compact calibration kits up to 26.5 GHz will be released soon. However, these are still only a few of our activities.
MWJ: In the current economic downturn are certain markets outperforming others both in terms of product sector and geographically?
Beck: The current downturn is almost invisible in our radar and SatCom business. It seems to have paid off that we bring service to our customers because, even in these difficult times, we are continuously winning market share worldwide. No matter whether it is the biggest defence market, in the US or in Asia, SPINNER’s network of technical service and sales staff around the world enables us to provide the best service. Although the mobile communication market is below our expectations, the diversification of our portfolio gives us the ability to overcome any difficulties.
MWJ: Is this influencing your approach to product and market development and refocusing your short term objectives?
Beck: Focussing short term is not advisable in our business and is not an approach that SPINNER takes. Our company philosophy is based on long term business prospects. Of course, if an opportunity comes up, like happened with CATV connectors in the mid 1980s, that is short term and fits in with both our strategic and commercial objectives, we will act. We do need to be flexible.
MWJ: What ambitions does SPINNER have and what are its aims for the next five years?
Beck: Regarding the radar and SatCom group, we will provide extended support for our customers and continue to grow in the same way as we have in recent years. As well as being Europe’s leading supplier of rotary joints we aim to bring our service and expertise to other markets too. In five years from now we want to have the same reputation worldwide as in the mobile communication and broadcast industry. If you think about rotary joints the name SPINNER should be the first you think about. Finally, as an independent company we will continue to be the same reliable partner to our customers that we have been during the past 63 years.