For a business that “just” makes connectors, Deutsch is, in fact, a very substantial company with a global workforce of 3,500, operations in 25 countries and achieving $500 million in net sales last year. It is by no means the usual small- to medium-sized enterprise found in the motorsport industry. Founded in the U.S. in 1938 as a family business, it has recently undergone what has probably been the most seismic period in its history when it was acquired lock, stock and barrel by Wendel Investissements, a French equity investment company in June for just over $1-billion. “We have done some restructuring and where we were organized by business units, we are now structured into markets,” says Patrick Farmer, managing director of Deutsch UK. “We still have the same guys involved but in slightly different roles.”
Deutsch UK is, in fact, the baby of the family with the U.S. operations producing the biggest share of the turnover followed at some distance by the French company. However, since it is responsible for both the German and Italian markets, as well as that of India, it has a bit of an unfair advantage. Deutsch UK, though, has become very established in both the aerospace and military industries in the UK. Located in St Leonards on Sea on the south coast of England, it has carved out for itself an important role in another industry—motorsport, having been supplying connectors since 1993, since which time it has made a name for itself as a centre of excellence in connector technology. “If you go back 10 years, all the connector companies were supplying military connectors to the Formula One teams,” says Farmer. “What we discovered was that they were being hacked about to suit what the teams wanted, so we undertook some research and developed a range of products specifically for the motorsport market and it took off. We have managed to stay ahead for the last 10 years and are very much the market leader.” He adds, “The motorsport market is not huge, but it has continually grown and some of the spin-offs we are now selling into other markets.”
Deutsch has found that while connector technology developments used to be driven by aerospace applications and picked up by Formula One, now the reverse is often the case.
Technology driver. One market that is now taking Formula One-based technology is, oddly enough, aerospace. “We’ve moved to the point where Formula One in particular is demanding the new technologies and we’re migrating them back into aerospace and the military. For example, we had a clear demand from motorsport for double density and we knew in the longer term, it will be the traditional military market that will use that technology. We never originally predicted that this would happen. Originally motorsport looked like a good niche market for us to get into, but now it’s a very important one.”
Talk of the double density connector leads to talk of what Deutsch has been developing over the last year and which it has been releasing since showing the 14-64 connector—size 14 with 64 contacts—at a motorsport engineering expo in Orlando last December. This was followed by the smaller and lighter 12-41 range at the start of the year. Almost immediately it received a large order for these double density connectors from a MotoGP team. “Having announced the 14-64 double density connector at the PRI last December it has now been seen by most of the Formula One teams and we are expecting a number of applications on the cars next year,” says Paul Webb who has been Deutsch UK’s motorsport specialist for a number of years. “It has been running on both a Formula One and a MotoGP engine all year.”
The UK Ops. The surprising thing about Deutsch UK is that although it is the baby of the family, it is itself quite a large company with around 300 employees on one site where it produces and tests everything. It has not succumbed to outsourcing its manufacturing to third party companies or having its products made in any other country. This is because it is passionate about quality which means keeping a tight control over the manufacturing process. Featuring a large manufacturing area with highly trained staff populating the shop floor, it also has its own research and development departments and a very sophisticated and comprehensively equipped test house on site managed by Tony Coomber.
In addition to Deutsch’s normal quality control checks, the test house performs spot checks on everything that is produced on their manufacturing lines, a facility that is extended to teams which encounter problems such as vibration in their electrical systems. So extensive and knowledgeable is the expertise in the department that they are able to trace the history of events that led to a failure in the system, helping the teams review their designs to overcome such problems.
It is the manufacturing process, though, that has seen the biggest advances over the years. “The biggest changes I have seen in the time I have worked at Deutsch is in the technology of the machining of the components,” says David Watters, who used to cover the entire industrial business, but who is now fully focusing his effort on the motorsport market as the new head of autosport. “We used to make components machining only one feature at a time such as a thread or a bore or a slotted keyway. With the new technology we can do all these operations in one, which has given us a completely different level of quality and tolerance control that was never achievable in the early days. We are also finding that the industries, whichever one it is, are demanding shorter lead times and by adapting these new technologies, we’ve been able to adapt our company’s performance to deliver to the market what it needs.”
Asked why Deutsch UK has felt it necessary to create a new department focusing on motorsport, Watters replies: “It’s important that we follow the teams and the infrastructure to ensure that we can supply the connectors that they need with the timescale and the technical support. We see countries like China and the Middle East offering exciting opportunities for us to be able to put the necessary infrastructure to support the emerging motor racing. As part of this role I will be able to set a strategy for the support worldwide for the products and that will include the sales, engineering and production for the products.”
What this means, in effect, is that as the market leader in connector technology in motorsport, a position it has forged for itself, Deutsch UK is laying down the claim within the group to retain this role. A key part of Watters’ strategy is therefore developing connector technology like the double density one in an effort to remain ahead of its rivals and ensuring they remain in tune with their customers’ requirements. “Our continuing strategy is to understand exactly what is required by the teams and see how we can adapt our product. Although we are always looking at the high density ranges and investigating the highest pin density that you can have, at the other end of the scale we have our high-powered connector where we have been approached by a number of people who wanted something that would take 150 amps. So though we focus on the very high density packages, we’re happy to support the industry wherever it needs to and the high-power demonstrates that position.
Wired up. “Our new double density connector range, that goes from a 5-pin variant in our Autosport Ultra connector right through to the 14-64, which helps incorporate the electronics and reduces the actual box size, means that we are helping to support the industry in the drive for smaller wire size. So our high density range, which now starts at wire size AWG24, is ideally positioned for the 26 to 30 AWG wire size which are now becoming the norm in the industry. The existing products, all geared around wire size AWG22, which though acceptable, is not as good if you have a product that is purposefully designed for the new sizes.”
“One of the drivers has been the way the wires are going,” agrees Rob McIntyre, program manager of Performance Wiring Solutions, a subsidiary of Pi Research. “You now don’t have to put in packing around the wires and it’s been a big saving from a loom perspective because most of the wire, rear seals and rear grommets were too large for the wires. We would therefore over-sleeve, which is very time-consuming. With this double density range, we don’t have to worry about that. “More and more of the things we manufacture are what we call the lightweight standard where we use 55m specification wire, which is double the tensile strength of 55a and is very strong and rugged. They have been used in Formula One for a number of years but are now finding their way onto sportscars, touring cars and rally cars. Many of our standard data acquisition customers specify lightweight wires for the box.”