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MD: What do you consider to be the biggest challenges currently facing military personnel?
Mark Richards: UK armed forces are under greater pressure than ever as a result of both political and commercial events. The modern soldier regularly has to switch between combat and peace-keeping roles, and has to be able to fully focus at all times. The world is changing fast and so is the role of global armed forces. In addition, the reduction in UK military capability will increase pressure at the front line, amplifying the normal challenges encountered.
The modern day warfighter has become a ‘Digital Warrior’ with an ever increasing requirement for high speed data capture and communications. Situational awareness on either the battlefield or in a policing operation is now paramount, with reliability an absolute requisite. One major target for the military is to reduce the overall combat weight of the dismounted soldier. We understand that no one wants to carry excessive and cumbersome weight when a litre of water or munitions could be life critical.
Another issue for military personnel is the availability and inter-operability of kit. Although more of a commercial pressure, it clearly does affect the user. There could be nothing more frustrating than not being able to do your job because you don’t have the right kit at the right time.
MD: How do Fischer’s products provide innovative, practical solutions to these challenges?
MR: To provide innovation you have to understand the problem, you must listen and truly understand the need; only then can you start to work on the solution. We strive to provide cost-effective solutions which are smaller, lighter and offer ever higher performance, without compromising quality. Recent innovations have enabled users to reduce the size of equipment and at the same time provide more functionality.
In terms of the targeted size and weight reductions being requested by the end user, we have been able, by design and material usage, to offer a 50 percent component weight reduction, while still retaining the rugged reliability of the connector.
In addition to product innovation, we have really focussed on our supply chain; investing heavily in lean manufacturing to ensure our processes are optimum and providing lead-times aimed at delivering off-the-shelf products. Our support network means we offer global support when you need it, and we are proud to be a member of the ‘Supply Chain for 21st Century’ community, through ADS (UK Aerospace, Defence & Security industries).
MD: How does the launch of the MiniMax complement existing Fischer products, while simultaneously driving innovation forward?
MR: MiniMax was born from market needs and could be considered today’s market leader. Totally different to anything else that has been made before, it’s an exception in the connector world. Its realisation has enabled new (and patent pending) materials, processes and innovation, which obviously can’t be ignored and certainly have a place in other product developments.
MiniMax sets the bar for performance versus size, but it won’t be the right solution for every application. However it really complements our existing military products and will help us to expand the innovation and solutions we currently provide.
MD: Could you describe the manufacturing process of a product, such as the MiniMax, from conception, design, prototyping and actual production?
MR: The creation of MiniMax was a real global effort, key to which was taking the time to discuss with end users their needs and dream solutions. We put those needs together to define true customer expectations, resulting in the values we needed to deliver, which then became our goal.
We realised at the beginning we had to offer something different with a true focus on innovation in every sense, so a series of concepts followed, eventually narrowed down to one,. The design team researched materials and processes and started to develop specific material sciences that would form the heart of MiniMax.
By utilising state-of-the-art 3D rapid prototyping printers we were able to develop a variety of potential solutions at all stages of the design process, helping us to visualise how to package that science and make the user experience both simple and reliable. At this point of the development cycle it was important to return to customers, receive feedback and make sure we were still on track.
After exhaustive testing, the industrial teams set to work to optimise production processes. It’s okay having a great product but you have to be able to deliver on time to customer within budget. The creation of MiniMax involved many new technologies, new skills and new processes, all requiring both resources and investment, but doing so means that it’s now in production, on time and to the original plan.
MD: As is quite often the case, what is originally designed for the military has historically filtered down to the public sphere; what everyday applications can Fischer’s more rugged connectors serve?
MR: Although the military will be the primary user we are certain many others will benefit. Basically, anyone who manufactures electronic equipment for use outside, underwater or in harsh environments could utilise MiniMax. The two major trends in electronics are that the equipment is getting smaller and at the same time more functionality is required. We expect MiniMax will be used in applications such as medical devices, underwater robots and sensor, security and monitoring systems.
MD: What do you think is the next logical step in technological development and how is Fischer responding to future trends?
MR: It’s clear that data rates are ever increasing, equipment functionality is increasing and equipment size is reducing. Service and value for money are also becoming major driving factors in today’s global supply chain.
We have a technology roadmap targeted at solutions to market trends, there to both track and exceed user expectations. The way we developed MiniMax is a benchmark for us and other product innovations will follow that proven route.
MD: As part of a global organisation, what is your sense of the recent flattening of manufacturing output, and how do you see the industry lifting itself out of this current downturn?
MR: It’s clear that the economic situation is difficult for many manufacturers, but it is essential that you adapt to this. We remain focussed on improving our efficiencies and adapting to the changes we experience, this can only make us better and stronger.
In an ideal world, it would be great if UK manufacturing can return from overseas, that needs to be encouraged; this country remains one of the best places in the world for innovation and product development.
About Fischer Connectors:
Fischer Connectors Ltd currently stock a range of 10,000 connector variants of contact block, body style, plating and termination styles, all of which are suitable for use in some of the most rugged environments and demanding applications. With almost 60 years experience, the driving force behind FC’s continued success is innovation and investing time and resources into the future, creating a modern, dynamic company at the forefront of connector technology.
From its headquarters in Switzerland, through subsidiaries in the UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and China, many of its products, especially micro-technologies, have been adopted globally in Future Soldier programmes for forces in the UK, US, China and soon to be India.
Combining its own in-house R&D centres with external universities and research facilities, FC sis currently enjoying the benefits of incorporating 3D printing throughout its business and is comprehensivelyinvolved in meeting the future needs of not just military clients, but those involved in the medical, broadcast, security, industrial, energy and transport sectors.
About the MiniMax Series:
Released in June, the MiniMax is a first-of-its kind rugged push-pull inter-connect solution for today’s miniature devices. Designed for even the harshest environments, it successfully passed extreme temperature tests and boosts 1,000 hours of salt water spray. About the width of a push-pin, the all-in-one 20 signal (0.5A) and 4 power (5A) MiniMax features a 24-contact configuration, resulting in fewer connectors and cables being needed. With an unbreakable keying system, capable of withstanding over 4Nm of torque, the connector is ideal for use with portable equipment such as communications devices, as well as medical and harsh industrial applications.