50 years in circular connectors

50 years in circular connectors

Feature articles |
By eeNews Europe

The binder of today got its start way back in 1960 in Neckarsulm, Germany. Franz Binder was born in 1929 and passed his examination as a master machinist before starting his own mechanical fabrication and tool-making operation.
Alone at first and then with a small number of employees, Franz Binder fabricated turned metal parts in Bad Friedrichshall-Kochendorf under wage labour contract exclusively for one large local corporation.

Dependence on a single customer, says Werner Fröhlich, member of the Executive Board and head of Sales and Marketing, led Binder to consider ‘acquiring new customers in the contract production segment,’ which turned out to be difficult in the local setting, however. In seeking to diversify his operations, Franz Binder discovered an interesting product expansion opportunity through a personal contact of his.

Second market focus
The aforementioned competitor manufactured circular connectors for industrial applications and was the only supplier of those connectors, and therefore market leader, in the 1960s. From 1966, Franz Binder produced the ‘M16’ – one of the first technically updated compatible connectors. The second market focus had been identified and the product palette was successively expanded. Due to technical problems, the company experienced some setbacks in 1968 and was on the brink of collapse. But Franz Binder, according to Werner Fröhlich, was convinced that he would find the way back on the road to success and started to expand the manufacture of circular connectors as an alternative to the ‘Tuchel’ connector – but with a key difference: apparent weaknesses were analysed and corrected and a technically updated alternative was developed, which was easier to install and more robust in operation.

binder solution
Customers recognised the benefits of the ‘binder solution’, which created a high demand. The crucial idea of Franz Binder was to take connectors that were available on the market and to add structural modifications that provided benefits for manufacturers and advantages for customers and users. In addition, binder changed the design of the connectors for better product differentiation. Back in those days, accommodating customer wishes in that way was not common practice – market leaders were particularly apt to concentrate on their standard range. And thus, with Series 681, the ‘triumph’ of binder began in 1968. A contributing factor to success was also the introduction of the microphone connector as M16 in the measurement and control engineering segment. After a few modifications by binder, it was also established as an industrial connector, which in the 1960s and 1970s was used primarily as a welding equipment connector. The other circular connectors available on the market were MIL versions and too expensive for industrial applications. Use of the M16 as a microphone connector was eventually phased out.

Focus on circular connectors
Until the mid-1980s, binder also produced circuit board connectors and contact strips, most of which were customer-specific products and which soon accounted for half of all turnover. As the manufacturing processes for circular connectors, which made up the other half of the turnover, were very different from the PCB connectors, a decision had to be taken: which connector range would ensure the future of the company?

When Werner Fröhlich joined the company in 1980, he recognised the market dominance of binder in the circular connector segment and observed, on the other hand, that it would be impossible to keep pace with the increasing presence of the Asian manufacturers in the PCB connector segment. So PCB header production was shut down and partly relocated to the subsidiary MPE-Garry in the German town of Füssen, which successfully operates in that market to this day.

That marked the start of the focus on circular connectors. At the request of customers, the M16 was made in a waterproof version to IP67/68. That opened up a broader market, including further customer-specific modifications, which were undertaken upon completion of market analyses. This was followed by the M16 as Series 581 with IP40 and, as an alternative to that, Series 723 with IP67. Then came demands to carry these connectors also in shielded versions, in order to comply with EMC requirements. Because the design of Series 723 would not accommodate shielding – they were too complicated and therefore too expensive for that – binder developed Series 423, which featured protection to IP67 together with shielding. Due to demand, connectors with more contacts were then produced and today there are some of the same dimensions with up to 24 contacts.

Further milestones
Another milestone of success was the aforementioned subminiature connectors with an outside diameter of 10 to 12 millimetres, which were added to the product range because the M16 was too large for some customers. The established subminiature connector of a well-known Swiss manufacturer was technically sophisticated, but its complex locking mechanism made it too expensive. binder adopted the dimensions and simplified the design, in order to offer a less costly version – without a high-level degree of protection and without shielding. As a result, the first in-house development – Series 711 – was created as an inexpensive but incompatible alternative to the Swiss supplier’s solution with M9 threaded coupling. Just one year later, again at the request of customers, Series 711 was further developed into Series 712, which then complied with the requirements of IP67 protection.

1972 and 1980 were marked by successful business performance without further innovations. Werner Fröhlich joined binder and restructured the sales organisation. In the mid-1980s, on his advice, the company entered the automation technology segment, because Daimler-Benz wanted plug-in sensors. The classic M18 and M12 sensors with a fixed cable connection as commonly found in mechanical engineering and the automation sector were not ideal for production plants and car manufacturers, because this resulted in extended downtime during maintenance. The idea was to use plug-in versions to minimise such downtime. That’s why, in parallel, binder developed a field assembly connector, eventually also including a cable. At the time, it was assumed that no more than 20 to 30 per cent of sensors would be fitted with connectors. Fortunately, that picture has now changed so that 90 per cent fitted with a connector and no more than 10 per cent with a fixed cable. Today, the sensor system connector segment represents over half of the product range and 60 per cent of turnover. That makes binder one of the market leaders in the area of equipment-based as well as field assembly connectors. The biggest customers of binder include leading manufacturers of sensors of all types (primarily German companies).

There is hardly any sensor manufacturer that does not purchase these connectors from binder. The strength of binder is also related to the fact that German sensor manufacturers mostly dominate the world market. The years since 2010 have been marked by a strong engagement in the sensor and automation segments, so that the company has invested significantly in automated manufacturing.

Developing new markets
As the company wanted to keep growing, binder had to develop new markets. Relevant products in this context from 2010 onwards included versions of the M12 connector, which is currently available in the same dimensions with 4, 5, 8 and 12 contacts, straight, angled, in V2A stainless steel, shielded and with different codings (B, K, L, S, T and X) – along with the power supply (K- and L-coding up to 380 V/8 A) also for signal transmission (X-coding up to 10 GB KAT 6, which makes the use of fibre optic cable superfluous) in the different bus systems. The new markets on which binder is focused include the food industry, medical electronics, motor vehicles and agricultural machinery as well as transportation technology including rail travel with entertainment systems. binder’s connector range has been adapted and modified for those markets. 

The founder’s son Markus Binder.

binder today
Today, binder’s portfolio includes 4,500 basic connectors with 5,000 versions and 500 customer-specific solutions. All products are ‘Made in Germany’, with the exception of cable assembly, 30 per cent of which takes place in Hungary. The company also manufactures its products in the USA for the American market and in China for the Asian market. In so doing, and with additional worldwide operations, binder follows the ‘think globally, act locally’ principle.

Succession organised

Franz Binder’s son Markus has already been sharing responsibility for the company as General Manager since 1992. Effective 30 November 2014, Franz Binder transferred all of his shares in the business to him. All other companies of the binder Group were also transferred to Markus Binder under company law. With this decision, binder has laid the cornerstone for its future, because, after all, the Binder family is inseparably linked with the binder company. With its 1,700 employees worldwide, binder is an independent, family-run company and will, according to Werner Fröhlich, also remain so in future.

Binder  –

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