Executive Interview: Katharina König, managing director of SPINNER
Delivering excellent technology paired with superb quality for 70 years
SPINNER was founded 70 years ago, in 1946. Outline its history and the initial products it specialized in.
My grandfather, Dr. Georg Spinner, was fascinated by technology. When he founded the company, he was studying radio frequency technology. At that time, he primarily followed a consultative approach but also developed products such as two-beam oscillographs, pressure absorbers and radio transmitters. Due to this consultancy approach, he was aware of the challenges that his customers faced, and he simply did what enthusiasts do — he developed solutions for his customers. The first real product area for SPINNER was connectors, and the first breakthrough happened in 1949, when we invented the 6-16 connector.
Since 1946, the company has played a major role in developing RF technology. Please outline some of the key innovations SPINNER pioneered.
The 6-16 connector was the first innovation at SPINNER and the first reliable RF connector world-wide. SPINNER also derived a 50 Ω variant from it called the 7-16. This connector system became an industry standard and the most important connector system for mobile communication. SPINNER also invented further connector systems, such as the 4.1-9.5 and the 4-11. The latter became the standard for military RF connections. The latest achievement is the 4.3-10 that we developed with other companies, which will be the new standard for mobile communication.
Another area where we have been pioneers is rotating solutions. In the early 2000s, we were the first vendor to develop an optical multi-channel rotary joint. That development enabled a lot of applications, such as radar antennas and use cases with sensors on rotating interfaces, such as windmills or industrial robots.
Besides being a product innovator, SPINNER has also set standards for production processes. We have produced jumpers for 25 years, and 20 years ago we invented a new technology to automatically solder jumpers. This was the initial enabler for fully-automated jumper production, which we started 10 years ago.
What are the main RF and other technology sectors where SPINNER is particularly active now?
The main technology sectors are mobile communication, test and measurement, broadcast and rotary joints, with the expansion of the test and measurement and rotating solutions sectors being particularly significant.
For test and measurement, we have put more emphasis on low PIM and millimeter wave test equipment. All mobile network vendors face enormous cost pressure and are automating their test environments, which requires reliable low PIM test components. Millimeter wave is a major focus area, and with 5G around the corner, the demand will increase further.
Rotating solutions is a new business division within SPINNER that has its roots in RF rotary joints. We have been able to leverage our years of experience with RF rotary joints and slip rings and add new innovative technologies, such as fiber optics and contactless data and power transmission. This has enabled us to use multiple technologies within one hybrid rotary joint and to customize the product according to individual needs. So now, SPINNER is in a position to address new markets, such as windmills, robotics and industrial automation, and also can offer more and better technologies to existing markets such as radar, Satcom and space.
What is the basic philosophy of the company? Has it changed over the years?
The basic philosophy hasn’t changed. In the end, it is about solving customer challenges the most efficient way. We want to be a reliable partner for our customers and help them to bring down their total cost of ownership with our products and solutions. Delivering excellent technology paired with superb quality is a prerequisite for us to be successful in the markets we serve.
Explain how you bring down the total cost of ownership.
Let me give you a few examples:
Our connectors are designed in a way that they save costs, during and after installation. The key is simplicity, as the installation of connectors is fast and safe and requires a minimum of tools. When comparing the product cost, installation time and related cost for installation tools, our connectors are one of the most cost efficient solutions on the market.
Another example is the use of our rotary joints in windmills, where they are a perfect fit due to their technical performance and long-term reliability — which means they can overcome the drawbacks of long-term failure and the high cost of maintenance that can be an issue with traditional systems.
What is the advantage of being an independently owned company in the 21st-century commercial marketplace?
The main advantage of being independent is the ability to follow our basic philosophy and long-term targets. This also allows us to focus on sustainability and be a reliable partner for our customers.
Where are the company’s production facilities, and how do they serve the global market?
Our main production facilities are in Germany, Hungary and China. The factories in Germany focus on mobile communication solutions, test and measurement, broadcast and rotating solutions. The factories in Hungary and China complement the communication portfolio.
Where do quality and looking after the environment fit in your priorities?
Quality is one of our main philosophies; many of our customers buy from us because of that. Quality is manifold: it is not just a well built product but a “smartly” built one. For instance, when we design a product, we already have the quality aspect in mind by considering all the circumstances relevant to its usage, installation and maintenance. As emphasized before, our target is to reduce total cost of ownership for our customers by delivering the best possible quality. Of course, we are certified according to DIN ISO 9001.
The environment is also very important to us. We take care of the environment by following the guidance and rules set by relevant authorities. We were one of the first companies in Germany to be certified according to DIN ISO 14001. We are also in a certification process for energy management, according to DIN ISO 50001. Further, we are a member of a local initiative called Umweltpakt Bayern, specifying and implementing further guidelines exceeding those of the ISO standards.
SPINNER is a company that is totally committed to quality and the environment.
How much emphasis does the company put on research and development?
Throughout our 70 years, R&D has always played an important role in SPINNER and has been the foundation for our success. Our R&D set-up includes an innovation team, which has a more scientific focus. This group enables the continuous implementation of cutting-edge science in our product development departments and has led to a number of patents.
We also work closely with universities and research institutes to develop new technologies and make them ready for the market. SPINNER maintains close ties to several universities. We support research projects and offer internships and thesis work to students, which is important for the company when recruiting top candidates. We exchange staff in both directions, and this has proved to be fruitful for all parties.
In an ever changing world, what technologies does SPINNER believe will take the company and the RF/microwave industry forward in the coming years?
We see the increasing application of higher frequencies as the driving force for new technology. Mobile communication is a very good example. 5G will most likely utilize frequencies up to 80 GHz. Also, new industrial and safety applications such as automotive radar and imaging scanners drive the demand for millimeter wave equipment. We have a number of innovative new millimeter wave products, mainly related to measurement equipment, that we have recently brought to market.
Another recent development triggered by new applications is in technologies for fiber optic rotary joints and contactless data transmission that are increasingly integrated into radars — but also into wind turbines, camera systems and many other industrial applications.
It’s not just the application technology that is evolving. We also see new manufacturing techniques establishing themselves in the production of RF components. Today, most of our RF products are manufactured by subtractive methods, such as turning and milling. With new technologies, most prominently additive manufacturing (AM) techniques, we will see new ways of realizing products.
A good RF component requires high standards of material quality, surface roughness and accuracy. Modern 3D printers simply cannot produce the same level of quality or cost as can be achieved by conventional CNC machines. In the near future, we expect to see existing technologies being complemented or taken over by new additive manufacturing methods. This presents new opportunities. We will, for example, be able to offer smaller series of customized products that can be manufactured cost effectively.
What ambitions does SPINNER have as a company? What are your aims for the next five — even 70 — years?
Our key ambition is keeping focused on customers and remaining a reliable partner for them in the future. We want to leverage our existing knowledge and experience to further develop innovative solutions. Our recent success with our rotating solutions portfolio has been proof of this, as we have been able to transfer existing knowledge and quality standards into new markets.