Interview -Taking the initiative

Bill Henderson, Hypertac’s business development director, talks to Neil Tyler about how the company has adapted to the changing connectors market. A leading supplier of high reliability, high performance interconnect solutions and electronic connectors, the company’s operation in the UK is located in London. It is part of Smiths Interconnect which is in turn part of the Smiths Group which employs over 23,000 people across 50 countries.

Hypertac has particular expertise in the rapid development of innovative interconnect solutions for applications for the military, aerospace, industrial, mass transit, test & measurement and medical electronics markets – the company’s London operation, one of four centres of excellence, is focused on the aerospace and military markets. Its range of connectors includes printed circuit board connectors, modular, rectangular, filtered ARINC and circular connectors.

According to Bill Henderson, Hypertac’s business development director, while 2012 is looking challenging for the military and aerospace industry the company has worked hard to position itself better to meet the needs of a fast changing market. A number of major equipment programmes, for example, have been slowing down or have been delayed, due in no small part to the prevailing tough economic environment within Europe and the growing cost pressures that are being seen across the supply chain.

“Over the past five years there has been a strong drive by Hypertac to get design wins. In the military and aerospace markets there is a three to six year period before you go from a design-in position to the possibility of starting production. “

As Henderson explains the defence market provides steady work for companies that are involved in it – there are none of the peaks and troughs that tend to affect other markets, however the downside is that while you may get a design-in awarded there is no guarantee that it will then go into production.

“That is why we’ve worked so hard to get as many design wins as possible. There are no guarantees but it’s a target rich environment and there are a lot of projects out there from totally new ones through to upgrades and refits.

“Hypertac traditionally focused on PCB connectors and we had a great deal of success with the Eurofighter project, but once that went into production there was a realisation that there was little in the pipeline to replace it and our legacy products were beginning to look a little long in the tooth.“

In response the company has been very proactive and responded by starting a number of initiatives that were aimed at addressing the problems associated with the cost of manufacture as well as in maintaining a programme of advances in connector technology.

According to Henderson the company, “aimed at improved efficiencies through the active participation in manufacturing excellence schemes such as the Supply Chain for the SC21 programme and we started transferring the assembly of legacy connectors to lower cost manufacturing sites wherever that was appropriate.

“The extended company covers a variety of different industries. Our focus in the UK is on the military and aerospace sector and we needed to change the direction of the business. We needed to become more customer focused and to put in place processes that would enable us to deliver new technologies that would support and address future market trends. There is so much more functionality going into connectors and we’ve looked to address that. “

The company looked to respond to the changing business environment by working directly with customers at the earliest possible stages of their projects.

“By combining out design experience with extensive knowledge of the manufacturing process we were also able to ensure that we were able to deliver the most cost effective and efficient products.”

In terms of technical advances the company has focused on the functionality within the interface connector and is “actively working to achieve both improvements in performance and further reduced costs of ownership”, according to Henderson.

For example the low-profile, high-density HDLP range of rectangular PCB connectors from Hypertac have been designed for use in space-constrained applications that require low mating force, a high number of mating cycles, low and stable contact resistance, and exceptional fretting corrosion resistance.

With IP67 sealing when mated, the HDLP series is particularly suitable for missile guidance and propulsion systems, ruggedised computer systems, camera or display applications, and communications panels and enclosures.

The connectors include an interfacial seal and encapsulated contacts to achieve a high level of sealing, with optional conformal coating available to provide additional environmental integrity.

The HDLP Series uses Hypertac’s hyperboloid contact technology to reduce contact resistance and achieve low mating and unmating forces.

Hyperboloid contacts are a patented advanced design that looks to address performance requirements by providing high reliability, a high number of mating cycles, shock and vibration immunity, low contact resistance and low insertion and extraction force.

As Henderson says, “Hypertac has been a leader in integrating additional functions such as EMI Filtering and Transient Suppression within the connector shell and that has now become widely accepted within the industry. We have also now taken the further step of integrating the rear part of the chassis, backplane and connectors into the connector shell creating the opportunity for additional space and weight reductions while at the same time improving EMI performance and overall reliability.”

With the support of a strong global parent company Hypertac has been able to focus on the needs of its customers and offer leading edge technologies.

“Our approach has changed. We’re now providing our customers with a host of benefits from lower design and qualification costs to reduced assembly costs as well as a mutual stake in the success of the product, but it does require the company to accept greater responsibility. Hypertac has introduced a Gated New Product Development process that both manages and monitors all aspects of the project from design and development through to pre-production, qualification and production.

“It looks to address all the requirements of Design Reviews, Performance Prediction and Reliability Analyses, everything that is necessary to meet the relevant specifications and requirements of equipment design. It is a collaborative approach that benefits both sides.”

That level of commitment is crucial within the military and aerospace markets. For example aircraft are going digital, whether that’s in terms of communication systems, video surveillance or armament systems.

“The ability to support high speed data is vital and we are seeing a growing number of requests for connectors that can transmit data at high speeds. In that environment it can be very difficult to achieve. The aim is to provide a clean signal and to meet that requirement we have invested heavily in both hardware and software. The simulation software that we use ensures that we are able to design and refine our connectors before they are built.

“It’s a very involved design process but in the end manufacturers can have a high degree of confidence in the connector we supply. It was a big decision to make the investments that we did but it is certainly paying off.”

These initiatives have allowed Hypertac to maintain an impressive rate of technology development which has also translated into a strong financial performance and it is now turning its attention to new emerging markets such as oil & gas and medical. Another key market is the rail industry.

”While rail sector was seen as a ‘back water’ and often perceived as not the most exciting industry for the connector manufacturer that has all changed, “explains Henderson. “Train carriages are being fitted with security cameras that need to securely transmit video to computers on the train; data rates are increasing as a result which means a growing market for highly reliable, properly engineered connectors. The European market is exceptionally buoyant.”

Decisions made four or five years ago are beginning to pay off and the investments Hypertac has made and initiatives it has taken are delivering benefits to both the company and to its customers within the military and aerospace industry and beyond.


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