What is Radiall?
It originated as a French company, but it now sold on the Bourse, which is EuroNext, the stock exchange. It was started by two brothers in 1952 outside of Grenoble [France], where we saw the 1968 Winter Olympics. It’s actually very similar to Applied Engineering Products in that it was a family company and still is to an extent. It’s just grown much bigger. The broad definition of what we make are high-frequency interconnects, which includes coaxial — hundreds of different coaxial connectors, cable assembles; also some active microwave components and coaxial switches. Also a lot of fiber optic connectors, which we supply with cables. We also have a new product called D-Lightsys, which is a fiber optics-to-digital-and-reverse-transceiver suite of products. When you start with a computer and a digital signal, a transceiver changes it into a laser signal that goes down a fiber-optic line.
How complicated is transitioning from the analog world to the fiber-optic world?
We brought in a lot of new skills to the company; in a way it’s similar to a lot of manufacturing — but we’re [simply] making cable assemblies. We’re attaching the connector according to a procedure and whatever relevant information about the length of the cable is similar to what we do with a coaxial cable. The actual finishing of the connector is different and is a skill that has to be brought in, and the measuring is different. But the manufacturing discipline is the same. We have about 175 [employees] in the New Haven location — about 75 in engineering [designing the products themselves] and supply-chain inventory management.
Cable assembly of all types is a big industry with some major competitors. How is Radiall structured?
We have different product groupings in different parts of the world. The U.S. plant and three plants in Europe do most of the product design or slight modifications. We could have a standard connector and a customer might say they need it a tenth of an inch longer. New product design would be when we do a totally new type of connector or cable. We do some of both, but we do those in the French and U.S. plants, and very little new product design or modification in Shanghai, Mexico and Bangalore. The high volume goes to where we can build it for the lowest cost in the world.
How has the economy effected sales?
We’re lucky because we’re pretty diverse. We’re in a lot of defense [applications] and over the past five years our military antennas have done pretty well because of the demand. It’s not just because of the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan]; it’s because of the changes to military radios — the software-defined radios require specialized antennas, of which we’re a pretty good supplier. Those are made here in New Haven. The AEP line of connectors is designed [for] military and aerospace, so we’ve steadily gone back and forth from 40-60 to 60-40 percent in both of those [customer groups]. The demand for civil air is up because the new planes save so much fuel. The commercial airline industry is struggling to a great extent, but they are buying new planes because they have to save money, so that business is growing. Even the military stuff doesn’t turn on a dime; they are long-term programs.
What is the workforce pool you draw from?
We have a number of people with a BS in mechanical engineering, design and manufacturing engineering. A few people with master’s [degrees], and three guys with Ph.Ds in electrical engineering. We’re almost always looking for at least one engineer — it’s an engineering-intensive environment. We have about 80 people in assembly, which we bring in at $2 to $3 above minimum wage through temp agencies. We’re not hiring now, but among those people, we can pretty much train them. I always say what we really need [from assembly workers] is: ‘You show up and you care.’
We have people from every corner of the world [as well as] people who are fifth-generation in New Haven. We have at least 30 people with over 15 years’ experience here. Almost all our lead people and technicians [rose] through the ranks. I really emphasize that if they show up and care, we can train them. We have a good education program and a lot of training, and that’s what we really need: someone who’s going to apply themselves and have a manufacturing discipline.
Have government job-training programs been effective for you?
The state has been very helpful with training over the years. In the last year with the programs the state has for new hiring, we haven’t been able to take advantage of it because we haven’t had a position open up. We train according to our needs no matter what, then apply for [supplemental government programs that] will work. We don’t go out looking for money and then adapt our training to the money, but there has been some very good help from the [state’s] Department of Labor over the years.
Has the Internet made the job easier, more competitive?
It has had a lot of impact. Since I joined AEP, Applied Engineering [refined] its Web presence [multiple times] and Radiall redid its Web presence just this summer. Especially for technical items [the Web plays a big role]. Our customers are engineers, probably have a link to us on their favorites, and hopefully they find us very easy to use and find what they need.
And easier to find than your competitors?
I’m not an expert on that, but we monitor our Web history closely. When we did the latest changes we had focus groups to [ask], ‘How do you think when you’re looking for a technical item in catalogues and on the web?’ We work hard to have a Web presence on Answers.com, another engineering one — we try to have a lot of links to those, and information. When you’re selling something technical, you want the people to get the information they need quickly and intuitively, and I think that’s a competitive advantage.
What have you been able to do from this corner of the world that allows you to compete with larger companies?
Our president says, ‘Be the best and work with the best.’ We don’t necessarily come out with the absolute cheapest [price] on every bid, but if you want 72 of a special item four weeks from now, and they’re good and work, and we ship them on the day we say, then you’ll call us. If you want a million of something cheap, and you don’t mind throwing a few away or having the first shipment late, there are others you can call. In our manufacturing area we have a tooling room and a CNC area where there are very highly skilled guys. We design and make new parts in a matter of weeks, and engineers walk right out to the metal-cutting guys to collaborate.
Many firms separate engineering and manufacturing. Is that the direction you see things going, or do you see a return to closer collaboration?
A little of both. Our strategy is to combine the engineering and the prototype small-lot, quick-turn capability at this site, and the high-volume mature products in the lower cost sites. On the other hand, with a $250,000 CNC [Computer Numerical Control] machine, a lot of the expense is in the capital, and I’m sure the people who run them get paid less in China than here, but a huge part of the expense is the same everywhere. In Connecticut you can be competitive in that case.
With something that’s mostly assembly and has a lot of hand labor at a relatively low skill level for millions of parts, it’s just not going to be competitive [to be] made in Connecticut. We have to compete on the higher-value stuff, and I believe we still can.
You’re involved with the New Haven Manufacturers Association and other manufacturers. What are some of themes you hear from colleagues about doing business in Connecticut?
The various taxes and fees, of course. Another one is the way regulation is done. Most people aren’t believing there’s the possibility of some near-term time period where there’s [less] regulation, but I the biggest thing is it needs to be collaborative and much more assuming that the manufacturer is trying to do the right thing. With DEEP [the state’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection] and other regulators like OSHA, if they come in and there’s a regulation and some kind of log has the wrong number of columns, tell me what’s wrong and come back in 90 days. Assume that I’m trying to do it the right way. It’s a minor example but that’s manufacturers’ biggest complaints about any regulation is [that] where there’s not a real substantive area — like if someone got hurt badly, or direct environmental damage was caused — but more clerical or record keeping without direct damage. You really resent getting a fine for stuff like that. The last thing for both Connecticut and nationally is predictability. If I’m going to spend a quarter of a million dollars or hire two new people, I need to know what the world is going to look like in May. But I don’t right now.
Where is the company likely to be three or four years out? Are you confident that this is a strong, growing enterprise?
I’m confident. We’ve got a lot of new products: the D-Lightsys product can go into fighter jets. It’s very hardened and carries a lot of data. We have a line of multi-pin products that [are] not built in New Haven but Mexico that is going to be on the [Boeing] 787 for 20 years. So Radiall is set for the future.
So is new product development the driver?
Development and working with the customer on exactly what they want and maintaining delivery and quantity. You have to maintain your operational capabilities. Boeing just won’t tolerate [not having it delivered on time and to the specified quality]. It’s new product development backed up by excellence.
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