Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Products: Nano and Micro-D connectors
Making microminiature connectors largely by hand, the niche manufacturer caters to the technology needs of its largely military and aerospace customer base.
Ulti-Mate specializes in wired connectors so small that their Nano connectors must be assembled by hand using microscopes. "Our success is in creating best-in-class connectors which are not only small but can withstand high vibration and rugged environments," saysGlobal Sales and Marketing Director Frank Malczyk.
The company has a number of quality certifications, including AS9100D for aerospace, he adds, "which provides customers the confidence our products meet their specifications, while positioning Ulti-Mate to be a critical supplier to OEMs into this strategic market segment."
For many years, Ulti-Mate's catalog was under the umbrella of electronics manufacturer Molex. "At that time, Molex had little presence in the military market, so they put the product line up for sale and it was purchased by Bruce Billington who also was an initial investor into Ulti-Mate when it was first formed in 1978," says Malczyk. "Bruce is now 83 and he continues to come to work each day driving the company, but leaves much of the day-to-day operations with co-owner Thierry Pombart."
According to Malczyk, Pombart is a French native who first became associated with Ulti-Mate products in 1997 as an application engineer at Molex. In 2003, he and Billington partnered together and acquired the product line.
The company's 10,000-plus varieties of Micro-D and Nano connectors are used in numerous end products from missiles to geophysical drilling systems, Malczyk says. Ulti-Mate is well known for its high-precision stamped and formed contact system, which provides greater dependability during the mating and unmating of its connectors. "The environments in which these connectors are used in are harsh, and where space is at a premium," he explains. "This requires the highest reliability and dependence on our connectors as a critical component of the customers' products."
In addition to connectors, Ulti-Mate also provides custom cable assemblies. "Due to our product's uniqueness, we also get involved in assisting with the design of cable layouts using our connectors," says Malczyk. "It benefits the customer because we have manufacturing capabilities with the miniature components used in the cables."
While Ulti-Mate has a solid reputation in the aerospace and military markets, Malczyk says engineers increasingly need products during their prototype and test stages. "Design and test engineers need small quantities during their evaluation stages," he notes. "We now stock some of our most popular nano and micro circular connectors, and opened an e-commerce store branded as Direct Connect so the engineers could get their connectors within 24 hours. In the process, we've been able to expand our two plants in Southern California, and we just added another in Arkansas."
According to Malczyk, users of Direct Connect can download renderings, drawings, and 3D models for each part. "We're trying to service the engineer at the critical design stage, and if they need the parts now, we'll ship our stocked connectors out the same or next day," he says.
Ulti-Mate has earned a great reputation for their high-end connectors, producing back-to-back yearly double-digit sales percentage growth over the past several years. "We're driven by the end customer in the industries we service," says Malczyk, citing Lockheed Martin and Raytheon as examples. "The aerospace and commercial aviation market segments account for 65 percent of our business. The market is huge as everyone is wanting to make their end products smaller and lighter while requiring on the reliability of connectors."
Challenges: "In the military and aerospace there's little forecasting by customers, so typically engineers have to wait double digit weeks to get their connectors for their design considerations," says Malczyk. "We were challenged to come up with a solution, so we created our Direct Connect e-commerce site with popular nano and circular connectors in stock. As a result, engineers can get what they need on the same day or within 24 hours."
Opportunities: "We really don't have any competition from overseas, and our niche product is expanding in usage," says Malczyk. "We recently won a design contract for a company in the U.K. military and aerospace market. So we're getting well known globally for what we do."
Needs: "We're on a nice growth rate and realize we need to continue to expand by introducing automation within our manufacturing processes," says Malczyk. "We just enlarged our automation and process engineering group, evaluating new processes to see how we can drive through put. The problem, however, is due to the intricacies of our products, automation won't necessarily standardize or drive down the cost. They still need to be made by hand as the majority are custom. Thierry likes to say we make a type of custom jewelry."