Over the past several years, ERNI Electronics Inc. has made a focused effort to broaden its portfolio beyond telecom interconnect products that once dominated its product portfolio. This was largely driven by the telecom bust in the early 2000s, which resulted in the company’s re-evaluation of its position in the market. The connector manufacturer has expanded its product portfolio to include general-purpose board-to-board and wire-to-board interconnect solutions.
“It made us re-evaluate how and where we were going to market and the outcome has been a new portfolio of solutions beyond the telecom segment,” said Kevin N. Oursler, regional business development manager, ERNI Electronics Inc., Portland, Ore. ERNI participates in almost every industry now including industrial and commercial, with the exception of high-volume consumer applications. The connector manufacturer is a low- to mid-volume supplier that manufactures all of its products in Germany.
Despite ERNI’s move into the general-purpose market, these products are not the typical commodity interconnects such as USB connectors. ERNI continues to develop unique features and functionality for all of its product lines, while maintaining the quality and reliability of its products. “ERNI has always been known for quality and reliability and the engineering of our connector solutions. That has continued into our new products and new portfolio,” said Oursler.
“Connector makers are becoming more commoditized but we aren’t trying to be a commodity supplier,” added Oursler.
But offering proprietary products isn’t a problem for ERNI. “Some of our largest customers are billion-dollar companies and they don’t have problems specifying an ERNI proprietary solution,” said Oursler. “Molex, Samtec, and TE all have connectors not made by anyone else. That world has never gone away. We trust in ourselves and the marketplace that you have to focus on technologies, solutions, and differentiation to compete and to survive. Things I see in the pipeline are very interesting and innovative that customers will embrace.”
One of the challenges ERNI faces is that it has been known solely as a telecom interconnect manufacturer for many years.
ERNI is trying to educate customers about the new ERNI, said Oursler. “Customers don’t realize that we made the transition over the past several years. Everything they valued before is carried on into the new product lines. We’re trying to repromote our technology and markets where we can participate, and hopefully, solve a problem for our customers.”
“A lot of customers do know ERNI for our new solutions but broadly speaking, there isn’t a customer I go into that says ‘oh yeah I’ve already seen this.’ It’s always ‘I didn’t know ERNI had this,’” he added.
“It takes us awhile to get a product out but when we do we always hit the mark and it’s always successful,” said Oursler. “Some of our newer products are going through the roof, and some of that speaks to our diligence when it comes to our design in. We are not a me-too supplier. We want to differentiate ourselves with good technology, good features and good benefits.”
One example is ERNI’s MiniBridge wire-to-board product. With the LED market being a “huge” growth driver for the company, the MiniBridge has been very successful in the LED market thanks to its mechanical features and reliable, rugged interface. It also offers high current capacity in a small package.
LED lighting solution manufacturers aren’t looking for a bulky solution, said Oursler. “They are looking for something that is very streamlined. With ERNI you can’t compromise a reliable interface and that is always a challenge in engineering. How can you build in all these bells and whistles without making reliability suffer,” said Oursler.
ERNI expects to launch in late fall a product line extension to the MiniBridge, called Koshiri. Targeting automotive applications, Oursler calls it a beefed up MiniBridge.
“We’re always coming out with new variations,” said Oursler. “Density and small outline are some of the first checks on the design checklist.”
Although ERNI only introduces a completely new product line every two years, and maybe two or three product line extensions annually, designs like the MiniBridge are the product of partnerships and input with OEM customers that pay off in the end. “It’s hard to define a connector without the customer influence and input. Our diligence in that process pays off when the product is released, and it typically does very well.”
But the legacy ERNI products aren’t dead by any means. Customers continue to design in legacy products like the hard metric (HM) and backplane connectors. ERNI also continues to update legacy interfaces with new features and terminations. Some of those enhancements include DIN products that can withstand convection reflow so the entire board can be reflowed with the connector, surface-mount D-sub connectors, and new press-fit terminations that make it easier to use. One recent upgrade is an ultra-slim version of the D-sub connector, reducing the board space required to 33 percent of the traditional product.
ERNI sells its products through three traditional distributors: Arrow, Heilind, and Sager. ERNI also recently signed a distribution agreement with high-service distributor Mouser Electronics. The distributor is currently building up inventory for a full launch this month.
Adding a catalog distributor was a strategy in the U.S. because customers are looking for solutions in real time, said Oursler. He says Mouser is more like an extension to the marketing team. “It’s all about the front-end more than traditional supply chain and fulfillment. They are most interested in how they can get the technology to the engineer in the quickest way possible.”
“Mouser looks at stocking differently. They stock a lot of your part numbers so people will have a place to find it,” said Oursler. “That’s a key advantage for us in the U.S. because we are so design-centric. I can’t inventory product in the U.S. for all of our part numbers. It’s just not feasible. Mouser has a better opportunity to do that than I do.”
“In addition, especially in the U.S., it’s difficult to reach the guy in the lab because we’re not a Molex or a TE,” said Oursler. “Mouser is interested in differentiation in their supply base so people have a choice.”
“If I’m looking for technology and I can find all the products through Mouser then it’s a one-stop shop and that is a huge benefit because of the time spent trying to find technology. We want to have that window to the customer and Mouser is that for us now,” said Oursler.