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Innovating Through Times of Change

Innovating Through Times of Change
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by Ted Heil, President, Mini-Circuits

The story of the RF and microwave industry has always been a story about embracing change. In less than a century, we’ve grown from a cottage industry supporting a handful of military customers into the complex supply base that’s made wireless connectivity a fundamental part of daily life almost everywhere on Earth. Mini-Circuits has been part of that evolution all along, and as a result we’ve fostered a culture that sees change as an opportunity to innovate. Throughout our history, our ability to be nimble in adapting to customer needs through turns in the business climate has been key to our success. This year, the world changed suddenly and without warning, and again we’ve had to adapt, but that doesn’t mean we can take our foot off the gas and let innovation stall.

Just the opposite. The challenges the pandemic has brought about have forced us to respond rapidly and work differently. With 14 corporate facilities in 9 countries, we’ve had to coordinate at a global level like never before. When the virus first emerged back in November, we kept in close contact with our teams in China and learned from their experience to deploy safety measures at all of our global locations early on, protecting our team members while keeping essential functions running. We responded to unpredictable local restrictions by balancing our production workloads across our global manufacturing facilities to keep shipping orders and meeting customer demand through the peak months. That experience has both tested and strengthened our internal infrastructure and our framework for managing risk.

We also went from a situation where the vast majority of our staff was based on-site full time to suddenly supporting a partially dispersed workforce. This took some getting used to, but by adopting more digital technologies, we’ve managed to keep our teams connected and even improve communication and collaboration across the company in some ways. In the last few months, we’ve successfully completed multiple recertification audits virtually; we recently held our quarterly management review meeting with many team members attending remotely; we even transformed our annual sales conference into a virtual event with the highest attendance ever after running it in person for 18 years. Of course, digital communication will never fully replace the warmth and three-dimensionality of real, face-to-face interactions, and we’re looking forward to seeing our co-workers and customers in person again when this is all behind us.

I remember speaking with our founder, Harvey Kaylie, during the “Great Recession” of 2008-2009. During that time, we observed year-over-year down cycles and there was a lot of uncertainty about when a turnaround might come. Harvey told me that his philosophy was to always invest in the down cycle. When others are afraid and retrenching, double down on your investments and take advantage of the opportunities that inevitably emerge during turbulent times. 

At the strategic level, we have held true to that philosophy in the last few months. We’re staying the course on our key investments, expanding design capabilities, products and services that will drive future innovation for Mini-Circuits and our customers. Our power amplifier design team at our new facility in Rhode Island is hard at work on solid state amplifier models pushing the product line above 100W and eventually into the kilowatt range. We’ve broken ground on a new clean room facility in our Deer Park, Long Island facility.  The charter for the team at this location is to extend our amplifier modules and passive products far into the millimeterWave range up to 110 GHz. We just expanded our partnership with Mouser to over 200 countries, a major change in our go-to-market model, giving customers more convenience and flexibility in how they buy our products. We’ve opened new sales offices in the Netherlands and Japan to better serve our customers across the globe, and we’ve expanded our order fulfillment capability in Asia by adding a shipping hub directly out of our facility in Penang. Far from taking our foot off the gas, we’re pushing the pace despite the short-term obstacles 2020 has thrown at us.

We haven’t hit pause on innovation in our product development either. We’ve pushed our LTCC product line into millimeterWave frequencies and realized LTCC filters with 60 dB rejection! That’s an industry first. We’ve continued the expansion of our MMICs up to mmWave range including amplifiers, attenuators, equalizers, splitters and baluns up to 45 GHz, and new mixers and multipliers in development up to 60 GHz in surface-mount packages. We’ve also expanded our line of ultra-wideband connectorized amplifiers with more models reaching above 40 GHz to support customers testing high-frequency applications in the lab. 

Everyone can agree it’s been a tough year. But when I think about all we’ve accomplished, I feel optimistic about what’s ahead of us when the smoke clears and the restrictions of the COVID world lift, and they will. When we take a step back, in the bigger picture, our industry is at the forefront of a fundamental transformation in the way people live their daily lives. 5G is now well into development and early deployment, but we’ve yet to understand the impact on society when we unleash 10x bandwidth into the hands of a creative culture. For the moment at Mini-Circuits, and collectively as an industry, our role is to do everything in our power to keep innovating for a changing world, to fuel progress in the state of the art, in our industry and in society as a whole.

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