For more than 50 years now, the Swiss cabling specialist R&M has been producing innovations - one after the other. In an interview, CMO Andreas Rüsseler explains how R&M keeps coming up with new ideas and why the cabling industry is facing challenges it has never encountered before with the start of the era of digitalization.
Question: Mr. Rüsseler, R&M launches one or two remarkable innovations or new products with surprising new developments virtually every year. Most recently these included: the Cat. 6A EL module with incredibly simple termination, the patching system Netscale which is setting new standards in port density and handling, and also the fiber optic connector LC QuickRelease which surprisingly can be operated from the back. Then there is the SYNO gel dome closure with variable cable entry bays that are almost like a child's construction kit. Recently the company launched the Polaris-box 6 with which Fiber to the Home can be realized in every building in what seems to be record time – regardless of how damp or dusty it is at the building entry point. Is there still so much to be discovered in the world of connectivity?
Andreas Rüsseler: Yes, there really is still a lot to be discovered. Or rather: As far as passive network technology is concerned, we are pushing forward toward the limits of what is physically possible. And there is still room for innovations. Our R&D team is busy working on researching this 'room' and using it appropriately. And there is a certain thrill about working at the leading edge. Anything else would be boring.
You mentioned a number of decisive new developments which we managed to surprise the market with - something we are very proud of. We invest five percent of sales in research and development and apply the lean method in the process: With optimal input, we aim to achieve maximum benefit as fast as possible.
Question: Where do the exciting ideas come from? Who has that much imagination and creativity?
Andreas Rüsseler: We ask our customers every day about what we could do better. We learn from them. Dialogs with the customer result in ideas for product improvements, adaptations, new developments and total innovations. You can't imagine how creative our customers are and how much they put us to the test. The market is the best source of inspiration.
Nevertheless we leave nothing to chance. R&M has established a holistic process which is making us a smart innovator in connectivity. The innovation process includes scouting and screening using market and technology radar, idea development, evaluation and feasibility analyses, conceptual design and prototyping as well as ultimately the realization and implementation on the market. Key accounts are involved in the construction of prototypes and tests as early as possible. Two successful examples: Netscale had to prove its worth in practice in the edge data centers of well-known customers such as Cloud & Heat. Leading European telecom companies were specifically selected, consulted and invited to thoroughly test our SYNO dome closure and certify it.
Moreover, R&M uses an extended innovation network to provide wide support for our development plans. These include interdisciplinary specialist teams from within the company as well as external partners and networks, universities and research institutes, suppliers and other industrial companies, the start-up scene as well as select business incubators and industry experts.
Question: Does this process always produce an ideal result? Or do you make compromises?
Andreas Rüsseler: We weigh up the costs, benefit, value added, market and customer requirements, promising trends, growth and sales targets, corporate values and sustainability. Naturally we aim to be a pioneer when it comes to specific technologies. In other words, yes, we do take risks at times.
But we are not prepared to make any compromises when it comes to quality. R&M remains the quality leader in cabling technology. Our quality management system extends from the first step in the development of a product to the installation and commissioning of a network on customer premises. In other words: At the end of the day, our customers always end up with a perfect result.
Question: Ultimately innovation means that customers have to keep reinvesting to keep up to date. Normally cabling stays in the wall or floor for decades. Do you expect your customers to shorten the lifecycle of passive infrastructures?
Andreas Rüsseler: You have to consider that question from a number of perspectives. It's true that cabling infrastructures traditionally have a longer lifecycle than computers and other active devices. That is particularly the case for the wide area and carrier access networks as well as the structured cabling in buildings. In data centers, cabling already has to be adapted or replaced sooner.
We plan with considerable forethought in every segment. We are constantly asking ourselves what the world is likely to look like in 15 to 20 years. For example, R&M was coming up with cabling solutions and scenarios for smart homes more than ten years ago. The smart home boom is only just beginning to take off now.
It is important to know that we are currently at the start of a new era.
Digital transformation, the Internet of Things, smart city, cloud computing, virtual reality, video streaming and the mega trend of mobile communication mean that networks are facing challenges they have never seen before. Both outside and in buildings. Each of these trends requires more and more networking. Nobody in today's market can close their eyes to that.
This development is also having dramatic effects on cabling. The world is currently going through a period of metamorphosis in which network access is becoming omnipresent. This access is constantly having to be extended and having to adapt to new applications. In other words: The cabling lifecycle is naturally becoming ever shorter.
Question: Will that not be too expensive for the users?
Andreas Rüsseler: Investments in networks have to be worthwhile for users. That is obvious. And that is why we only ever bring innovations onto the market if there is clear value added for our customers. You'll never see R&M getting on the bandwagon because of some new hype or other or overflowing the market indiscriminately with cheap products and an unmanageable number of variants. It is our aim to always offer palpable and sustainable value added.
A good example of this is the RJ45 connection module Cat. 6A EL. It contains the – to date – most powerful copper connecting technology of all time. And it can still be wired in next to no time. Installers were amazed to see just how quickly a distributor can be set up with the technology.
And the speed is good for everyone: Installers can complete more projects in less time. Customers can commission their network sooner and save money thanks to shorter installation times. They can have their networks changed more quickly, easily and simply. Incidentally: We nevertheless offer a 25-year system warranty since we're on the subject of lifecycle.
Question: Innovations are also cost-intensive for manufacturers. Is it still actually worthwhile for R&M?
Andreas Rüsseler: R&M runs a profitable business, as you can see from our annual reports and the Corporate Social Responsibility Report. We want to grow continuously and long term – in terms of sales, earnings and share on the world market. We manage that very well. And one of the decisive factors here is innovation.
Since its founding, R&M has been an innovative company with a match-winning focus on sustainability.
Two examples: The invention of the Reichle telephone socket in the 1960s contributed to the fast and massive spread of analog telephone connections. We have been supplying the copper distribution system VS Compact for telephone networks for decades. In its current, further developed form, it is used as a universal platform for broadband solutions using vectoring and hybrid networks. That gives carriers an immense strategic advantage in the development of extensive regions.
Question: Could you take a look into the future for our readers? What R&M innovations can we look forward to seeing in the near future?
Andreas Rüsseler: As I said, market and customer requirements dictate the direction. Networks and cabling infrastructures have to become even faster and more compact, more flexible, more robust and more powerful. The ratio of operating to capital expenditure has to become more and more favorable for customers.
With our current innovation drive, we are advancing to the next dimension at an early stage both in copper and fiber optic cabling – our core competencies. Both worlds are looking at quadrupling the transmission performance of cables and connections.
In structured copper cabling, the development goal is Cat. 8.1 with 2000 MHz transmission frequency for the use of 40 Gigabit Ethernet. That is more than evolution. Cat. 8.1 is a quantum leap. The standard has been defined. R&M knows how Cat. 8.1 modules have to be built. We will once again be realizing systems with unbeatable performance. But we only start producing if there is palpable value added for the users.
In fiber optic cabling for data centers, the next development goal is 400 Gigabit Ethernet. Among other things we are working on perfecting light transmission in parallel optical connections and supporting higher modulations as well as short-wave multiplexing. Further compression and integration of optical connectivity are also on the agenda. This will have a considerable effect on network architectures.
Ultimately a lot centers on Fiber to the Home and the Internet of Things. Both trends demand inexpensive, uncomplicated, flexible and low-maintenance cabling and connection technology with mass appeal. We're working on that too.
And one last point: Data centers will be looking for new kinds of management solutions in the future to be able to master dynamic, complex infrastructures. On the basis of our monitoring solution R&MinteliPhy, we are planning corresponding further developments, services and software offers.
Question: Software from a manufacturer of cabling?
Andreas Rüsseler: You heard me right. We can do software, too. R&M knows that network operators will be needing more than connectors, cables and distributors in the future. They have to be made able to generate complete digital images of their networks – a prerequisite for the automated management of ever more complex infrastructures.
This leads to what are referred to as smart networks. R&M develops software solutions and services for these networks.
Automation and digitalization of network management are an absolute must for the future. You are not going to master digital transformation if you are still managing networks manually.
As you can see, the catalog of market and customer requirements is not getting any thinner. And we're certainly not running out of ideas.
Thank you: Mr. Rüsseler, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Andreas Rüsseler (50) is originally from Germany and since 2012 has been responsible for Marketing at R&M. Under his leadership, R&M has successfully brought a range of innovations onto the market. Before taking up his position at R&M, he was an engineer and Marketing Manager at Quante AG and 3M and also held managerial positions at HUBER+SUHNER AG. Andreas Rüsseler studied telecommunications engineering at the University of Applied Sciences Emden and also successfully completed an MAS course in Business Administration and Engineering at the University of St. Gallen.