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Solving problems sells products

Solving problems sells products

Harry H. Birkenruth, President and CEO
Rogers Corp., Rogers, CT

Birkenruth was named to his present position in 1992. His background contrasts sharply with that typical of many of today's executives, who often seem to change companies at the drop of the proverbial hat. An employee of Rogers Corp. since 1960, Birkenruth served as chief financial officer, senior vice president polymer products, and executive vice president, before taking over the corner office. He holds a degree from City College of New York and a Master's from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.

New technology, international standards, offshore sales, and focused R&D--they're all necessary for success in today's market, according to Harry Birkenruth.

Design News: How important are sales in Europe and Asia for Rogers Corp., and how important will they be in the next century?

Birkenruth: Sales outside the United States are quite important to us, and their importance is growing. More than 40% of our sales are of products either exported from our plants in the U.S., or manufactured in our overseas facilities, and these sales have grown at a 15% compounded annual rate over the last four years. Our sales in Europe and Asia will increase as we move into the next century. As long as our products solve problems for our customers, and we can provide appropriate technical support, we can expect healthy sales worldwide.

Q: What new markets will the EL lamps produced by your joint venture with 3M penetrate?

A: The outlook for Durel is excellent. Our proprietary technology gives us the ability to make a superior electroluminescent lamp for all sorts of displays. We--along with 3M, our 50% partner in this joint venture--can sell these products all over the world, because they solve illumination problems in a superior way, even an elegant way. Because this is an enabling technology, the sky is the limit on the market's size. These lamps can fit into many, many automotive applications, information display applications, all sorts of consumer products--only the designer's imagination limits the possibilities.

Q: Given the proven reliability of metals, why should engineers consider replacing metals with moldable composites?

A: Because our moldable composites can do the same jobs as metals at lower cost; in fact, they can outperform metals in most applications. Molded phenolics can cut weight, eliminate machining steps, and improve performance. In fact, they outperform thermoplastics as well as metal. So design engineers should look at these materials because they help the engineer to come up with superior, cost-effective designs. Metals are wonderful materials, but it's a new world out there, and moldable composites are just superior in many applications.

Q: Why do you claim that your company's new laminate RO4000(TM) a breakthrough ?

A: We developed this material for high-frequency communications systems. At one time, those systems were pretty much limited to the military, but today commercial applications are growing rapidly. The most important aspect of the RO4000 product is that it has electrical properties nearly as good as PTFE or ceramic, yet it can be processed using standard printed-circuit fabrication techniques. So printed-circuit fabricators can use standard processes and equipment with this material. That's a breakthrough. And it's important to design engineers because it can reduce the cost of producing high-frequency communications devices.

Q: What new materials can design engineers expect to see from Rogers during the next three or four years?

A: Because we are focused on certain markets, we are very aware of the need to provide materials that the design engineer will need next. We are continuously extending and modifying our product lines to meet the changing needs of our markets. A good example is in imaging equipment, where new developments in conductive elastomers are greatly extending the range of customized applications for Endurelastomer components. And an excellent example can be found in our family of urethane and silicone PORON elastomer materials. We are nearly ready to introduce several new PORON materials to meet specific automotive requirements.

Q: Many managers complain that R&D absorbs money without producing benefits. How do you feel about R&D?

A: Complaining about the cost of R&D is foolish. If we're going to be in business five or ten years from now, we need new products. New products emerge from a focused, well designed R&D effort. Certainly if management lets costs run wild, or doesn't make the effort needed to give the R&D team proper direction, R&D can burn money and yield mighty slim results. But that's not the fault of the people doing the development work; that's a management problem. We try to help our people understand the company's goals. We don't leave them to thrash about in the dark. At this company, R&D is focused on our corporate needs, and we don't begrudge the expenditure.

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