ERNI is now among the largest manufacturers of DIN 41612 connectors. Apart from standards and spacing, however, the industry faces a manufacturing problem. The increasing contact density and integration with multiple layer printed circuit boards push existing wire/soldering technology to the absolute limit. ERNI solves these problems by introducing solder-free pressfit systems, the complete system technology for which ERNI develops in-house. All connector lines are quickly expanded to include models featuring pressfit technology.
60s and 70s
A cross section under the microscope reveals how the pressed-in contacts establish a secure, gas-tight connection to the pins on the PCB.
Adelberg celebrates its 800 year anniversary, for which Elsa Erni designs the town’s coat of arms as a mosaic. The mosaic now decorates the town hall in Adelberg. Ernst and Elsa Erni support the founding of the Adelberg open air theater as a contribution to the town’s anniversary.
The ERNI computer
The 990E from ERNI is a completely industrial 16 bit microcomputer system, ready for operation including installed hardware and software. The 12 MHz central computer is connected to periphery cards by way of in-house-developed address buses. The cards continue to be expanded, encompassing 48 card types for memory, input/output, relays, sensors, displays, amplifiers, controls and other functions configured for the customer.
It’s all ERNI: the concept of the 990E is still up-to-date in today’s world. The main processor, memory and modules are inserted in a rack.
Regeltron Computer GmbH
The electronics department, in Adelberg since 1973, spins off. “Regeltron Computer GmbH” is a computer and software system company for system engineering and partner of the Swiss parent organization for the Federal Republic of Germany. ERNI telecontrol engineering systems, building, process and operational management systems control, monitor and regulate almost everything: from air traffic control to nuclear power plants, from freeway tunnels to aqueduct networks, from bank security systems to railway safeguards, all the way to precision milling machines.
ERNI develops more than 30 different modules with sensors, detectors and controls for telecontrol engineering, which are, of course, connected to the system using ERNI connectors.
Large projects in the Middle East involving building and safety engineering for ministries, banks and power stations also translate into a boost for relay, switch and connector technology from Adelberg. The relay program reaches its zenith. There is almost no switching requirement that cannot be met with ERNI relays, especially when, for safety reasons, a high degree of reliability is a must or in the case of extreme application conditions.
Decade and coding switches from production in Haubersbronn for the programming of operational processes.
Expansion of capacity in Haubersbronn to 3,300 m2, with a production area for 200 employees.
This much is true: it was 1974, the men wearing blue are from ERNI and a game of soccer (not ballet) is being played on the Adelberg sports field. Company sports are a tradition at ERNI and encompass a variety of activities.
The connector connection
ERNI moves ahead in order to ensure that interference and loss-free data transmission does not stop at the connector. ERNI KSG modules comprise a connector and a housing for flat or round cable. Additional components for specified bus systems are added. The KSG modules are uncompromisingly rooted in practical experience. Adding to such electrical qualities as contact stability, transmission performance and shielding are mechanical qualities, (especially those of precision and stability) for distinct, strain relief installation of cabling and safe fixation.
Connector housings (KSG) supplement the ERNI product line. ERNI develops I/O connectors and bus systems with specifications in accordance with international standards.
High tech back then
Although the black-and-white pictures today look nostalgic at best (workshop, series production or testing and development laboratories) – they actually depict technology at the height of its time, characterized by the spirit of innovation and flexibility of a small company.
Electroplating under control
Coating the leading contact parts of connectors is a critical process for ensuring consistent, high quality signal transmission. In Haubersbronn, ERNI erects one of the most state-of-the-art electroplating facilities in order to secure the company’s know-how in this area. In the years to come, outsourcing is again taken up in order to apply the advanced technical knowledge of the best specialists available to individual processes.
Punched and electroplated male multipoint connector. Gold and gold alloys are frequently used in electroplating because they are the most reliable contact material for detachable connections.
New: Eltrotec Elektro GmbH New: ERNI Australia Pty Ltd.
Peter Vögele founds a subsidiary company in Haubersbronn to market sensor technology. Included are modules for glass fiber optics, infrared sensors and color detection. Thirty three years later, ERNI is invited to join a high class research association for optoelectronics as a result of the company’s collective know-how. ERNI begins its globalization activities by founding ERNI Australia – the company’s third international location after Switzerland and Germany. The initiative for this comes from a former employee who emigrates to Australia to assume the sales of connector systems, relays and electronics housings.
Fiber optic sensor systems with measuring amplifier.
Second production location: Haubersbronn
ERNI expands - the buildings in Adelberg that were moved into just three years ago are becoming too small and finding qualified workers in the small town is becoming harder all the time. Thus, ERNI decides to probe the region for opportunities to expand and finds what it is looking for in Haubersbronn near Schorndorf.
In Haubersbronn, ERNI erects an industrial building for manufacturing connectors. The grounds also offer room for future expansion.
The world’s first high density backplane connector
At the first electronica exhibition, ERNI in Adelberg astounds experts with the world’s first backplane connector: 2- and 3-row, 64- and 96-pin, with gold plating and tested in accordance with the specifications for defense equipment (VG). These connectors receive DIN 41612 standardization in 1971 and are one of the main components of the 19” housing system. Contacts, multipoint connectors and housings are manufactured with in-house-developed tools for punching and injection machines. The level of precision achieved is unprecedented considering the technology available at the time. A 96-pin connector pair costs DM 45, with a maximum delivery time of up to 6 months.
Still in a transparent macrolon housing, however already featuring the precision and grid that will later become the global DIN standard – the “milestone of the year” in electronics, according to German trade journal “elektronik industrie”.
A development sets the course
The original backplane connector model is developed in Adelberg: “the first pluggable, multipole connection element with split metallic contacting” (original words of Ernst Erni). The drive behind this development comes from an ERNI sales representative. His customer, AEG, is building 19” electronics cabinets for insertable modules that need to be manually wired. In Adelberg, the idea of pluggable connectors that automatically establish the electrical connections when inserting the module is born. The new connectors are designed with the 19” system in mind and form the basis for a completely mechanical rack system.
The first submitted drawings of ERNI connectors, which later receive DIN 41612 standardization.
New building on Seestraße
10 years after starting and with tight accommodations, ERNI in Adelberg erects its first manufacturing plant on Seestraße. The payroll now covers 30 employees, who are treated to optimal working conditions.
The new building in the meadow by a potato field. The fresh country air and the unobstructed view of the natural setting “clears heads” and inspires – even today.
Der Goldene Schuss
ERNI also works “behind the scenes”, e.g. for one of Germany’s most popular television programs, “Der Goldene Schuss” (“The golden shot”), hosted by Lou van Burg from 1964 and Vico Torriani from 1967. The show involves a crossbow attached to a television camera controlled by ERNI telecontrol engineering. The telecontrols are installed in participating studios so that celebrities and candidates from several locations can play against each other. The interactive nature of “Der Goldene Schuss” writes television history. ERNI supplies five 6-channel systems to several television companies.
In Switzerland, “Der Goldene Schuss” is known as “Télé-Tell”. A host demonstrates the telecontrol for the electronic tele-crossbow behind her. Lower left: television picture provided by the tele-crossbow for aiming the notch at the target via the screen.
Numerous details are testament to how development work at ERNI is rooted in practical experience. For example, relays are also available with a pin base in order to eliminate soldering work and to facilitate easy assembly or exchange. ERNI LIX housings encompass entire assemblies and connect them to the rack via sockets. These plug-in solutions, however, are limited to the respective system and are not compatible with others.
The sample board with the production program, photographed 42 years ago in the evening light in front of the Adelberg monastery wall. From the left: relay components, relay 20, rows 3 to 7 – additional components, below different pin bases for LIX universal housing, row 8 – plastic housing and complete relays on the far right.
Semiconductors on the way
The transistor, invented in 1947, is now based on silicon and has a bright future. ERNI’s transistor switching units, known as “Transunits”, assume numerous control and regulation functions and also control electromechanical relays, depending on the assigned task. The recently developed GTO thyristor now also allows for high currents to be switched in telecontrol engineering applications. As the license for a relay expires and in-house development has not yet reached the production stage, a slump in sales is experienced. In order to secure the company’s position on into the future, Ernst Erni temporarily transfers the production of heater controls in Brüttisellen to Adelberg.
A relay combined with an electronic Transunit switching unit, installed in a pluggable protective housing; to the left: the pin base.
At the workbench
What is “low tech”? Where does “high tech” begin? Specialists in all areas are needed to keep production moving steadily. They maintain and repair the machinery, the electric systems and the power supply. They build tools and testing facilities, prototypes and samples. The quality of their work is the basis for quality products, on-time delivery and reliable planning.
Toolmaker Rudi Kern in his element.
Something of an economic wonder
As additional employees are hired, the Eckart house starts to become cramped. As a result, “loud” work (i.e. tool making, the punching department and injection molding shop) remain in the building, while “quiet” relay assembly work moves elsewhere. Not far away, but on the upper floor of the Rößle pub; the economic wonder takes off.
Far from beautiful, but practical: this self-built injection machine fabricates plastic and housing parts for the relays.
Standard with sockets
The LIX universal housing is an ERNI-specific standardization of a “striking, downright fascinating truth for technicians”: In standardized housings, complete switching, control or monitoring systems are assembled and internally wired. Connections are established to the outside via 50 or 100-pin sockets. The LIX units can be inserted into ready-wired racks, whereby the electrical connections are also established. Entire towers of LIX units with different functions meet requirements in automation, particle research (CERN), in control and safety systems and in traffic engineering (SBB).
Example of a LIX relay unit: below the installation frame with the sockets, with a completely wired relay system atop (opened and closed). Not in the picture is the cover protecting the unit from dust.