Interview with Terry Wainwright from Wainwright Instruments

  • Terry Wainwright - Managing Director Wainwright Instruments GmbH

everything RF Interviewed Terry​ Wainwright, Managing Director Wainwright Instruments GmbH, a manufacturer of RF & microwave filters offering many standard and custom designs for low pass, high pass, band pass, band reject and notch filters, manually and digitally tunable filters, as well as diplexers, duplexers, triplexers, multiplexers, monoplexers, and absorptive filters.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of Wainwright Instruments GmbH?

Wainwright Instruments GmbH was founded in Andechs, Germany in 1979 by Claire R Wainwright and his German wife Christel. Claire was previously the founder of Telonic Industries in Indianapolis, Indiana (test instruments) and Telonic Engineering in Laguna Beach, California (RF & Microwave filters). After these companies were eventually sold, Claire worked in Germany as an independent developer of varies products (sweep generators, telemetry systems, pre-amplifiers, filter-amplifiers, etc.).  

The new German company was to concentrate on the development and manufacturing of RF and Microwave Filters. With most filter manufacturers located in the US, it was an opportunity to stand out in this field in Europe. Claire always liked to work closely with his customer’s engineers to fully understand their needs. Many initial designs were developed out of these close collaborations. Now, 40 years on and 12 years after Claire passed away, his well-trained crew has continued to work closely with our customer’s engineers to transform their specific requirements into working filters. Claire’s closest and most experienced engineering colleague became technical director and has continued to innovate and expand our product offerings. Over the years we have built many thousands of different filters - many unique designs for very specific applications, while others became part of our standard portfolio.  

In 2009 Claire's son Terry joined the company after working in the Asian financial industry for over 15 years and became managing director in 2011. Having outgrown our old premises in an old school building, we moved into a new purpose-built production and office building in 2012, quadrupling our floor space and giving us room for future developments and growth. Since then we have grown our team by about 50% (to currently 40 employees) and have equipped ourselves with more modern production and measurement equipment.

Q. Can you tell us about your product portfolio? What types of filters do you manufacture? Are there any filter types you specialize in?

Our company designs and manufactures pretty much across the entire “filter spectrum” – i.e. low pass, high pass, band pass, band reject and notch filters, manually and digitally tunable filters, as well as diplexers, duplexers, triplexers, monoplexers, and absorptive filters. Most filters are built-in Cavity, LC, Helical or Waveguide design.

Q. What differentiates you from other filter companies?

One area that probably differentiates us from most of our competitors is the way we market our products. We don’t have travelling sales engineers or even a real sales department. We also don’t work through representatives or agents, because we prefer direct contact with the customer’s engineers and purchasing agents. Instead, we have developed a website with a huge and constantly growing database of standard filters with openly published prices. Since we allow visitors of our website to adjust the frequencies of most of our standard filters, before generating a datasheet with a valid model number and price, they can often obtain most of the information they need before even contacting us. We are also different from many competitors in that we have no minimum quantities and are willing to invest engineering time to design custom filters, even when it is for a single unit. We feel that we often obtain important information about the industry and learn about areas of potential future growth from such projects.   

Q. What is the percentage break down between standard and custom designs in term of revenue? What is the typical turnaround time for the development of a custom filter?

Custom designs now make up at least 60% of our revenue. The turnaround time for custom designing a filter can vary significantly but usually falls between 4 and 8 weeks, depending on whether we are expanding on existing designs with familiar techniques or going beyond that. If new technologies and materials must be explored to reach certain specifications it might also become a bigger project lasting several months.

Q. What market segments do you target or which Industry segments drive the most business for you? Do you see this changing over the next few years?

The mobile phone industry has historically been the biggest driver of our business - to the extent that the inherent volatility of that industry has also added some unwanted volatility to our revenues. In recent years we have managed to diversify significantly with a greater portion of our business now being driven by wireless connectivity, satellite navigation and communications, aerospace, and applications related to many other industries. One exciting example was the Rosetta project. Wainwright Instruments provided RF filters for an on-board microwave spectrometer on ESA's Rosetta space probe, built by various partners including the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. This space probe arrived on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014, after a ten-year journey across 6.4 billion kilometers of deep space.

Q. What is the geographic break up of your customers? What is the % break up of these regions? Is there any specific country or continent that you target more than others?

This varies quite a bit from year to year. Approximate figures for the first half of 2019 are:

  • Europe 55%                  
  • US and Canada 15%    
  • Others (mostly Asia) 30%

The biggest change in comparison to last year has been a large increase in orders from European customers in comparison to the other regions. We don’t target or exclude any particular countries or regions, but of course, stay clear of embargoed countries or parties listed on European or International sanctions lists.                    

Q. Are there any new technologies or filter types you have had to develop to support the new set of standards created every few years? Are you developing Filters for 5G?

As we continue to work very closely with our customers, we are often finding ourselves developing filters that are new in some way, because there has been some change in requirements in a particular industry or application. We don’t consider these to be real development project, but rather a part of our everyday business and goal to continually improve our products. For example, we have increasingly moved towards using milled housings for many of our filters and using Aluminum instead of brass for applications where weight is an issue. Some of the bigger development projects in recent years have included the development of digitally tunable filters, ceramic filters, and waveguide filters.

Developing filters for 5G has been a major priority in the past few years, to the point that we have established a dedicated development team, have partnered with a university in a partially government-funded project to develop filters for 5G and have invested heavily in both production and measurement equipment (such as 110 GHz network analyzers and specialized milling machines).   

Q. What are some key areas or interesting applications for which you are now developing filters?

When we develop filters for new applications there is often a customer in the background that requires secrecy, so that we can't go into much detail on such projects. But in general, we have ongoing development projects with/for customers in the areas of aerospace, satellite communication and navigation, land transportation and various other areas. The higher frequencies of 5G applications have also caused us to have to push the limits of our familiar filter technologies and to explore other technologies. Rising demand in this area is being felt from customers around the world and means that in coming years we will continually develop and expand our range of filters for such applications as we ourselves learn from customers what the changing requirements are.

Q. What is the roadmap for Wainwright Instruments for the next five years?

In recent years we have invested heavily in people and equipment as we built up our development team to a bigger size than ever before. In the coming years, we expect that to pay off in terms of an expanded product portfolio, allowing us to deliver products to high growth areas such as 5G, IoT and aerospace.

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