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August 3, 2013

Firm takes innovation to new heights -- literally

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing writer
The Daily Star

---- — Amphenol is in the forefront of space exploration with its interconnection systems that work in the harsh environment of zero gravity. The company also manufactures connectors for the U.S. defense, medical, communication and automotive industries.

“We make the ‘zero g’ connectors for the space station,” said Amphenol General Manager Richard Aiken. “The astronauts train to use the connectors under water. The connectors have to be smooth. And the astronauts have to train to use them, because one tear in the space suit and you know what happens — all the oxygen will be sucked out of their suit and they would die.” 

Amphenol has changed many times over the past 88 years, and they are changing again. With the recent flooding in Sidney, the building was compromised and the company is occupying several locations while building a new facility.

“After the last flood we rebuild in the same location — this time we decided to build on higher ground,” Aiken said. “But we are still committed to Sidney. We had several offers from other locations, communities that wanted us to build there. But we have always been in Sidney and this is where we will stay.”

So much of the American economy is dependent upon the transfer of information. Medical readings, automobile sensors, heavy equipment equilibrium, missile target confirmation and broadband communications all use connectors to secure the cables that access information used to determine the behavior of equipment.

Amphenol has become a necessary source for cutting-edge technology.

“That is why we are still here,” Aiken said. “We keep changing to keep up with the demand of technological advances.”

The business that would become a leader in aerospace technology began in the abandoned Hatfield automobile company located in the heart of Sidney. The Hatfield, or “Buggyabout,” was the invention of Charles B. Hatfield and Charles B. Hatfield Jr. who took a horse buggy and converted it into a two-cylinder, four-cycle, air-cooled engine that ran with a friction transmission.

The automobile company was acquired by General Motors in the early 1900s and the building sat empty for a couple of decades.

In 1924, a group of Swiss entrepreneurs, called Scintilla Magneto Company, came to the United States looking for a business opportunity. The group searched Wall Street for investors as well as a location to manufacture an efficient magneto – a mechanical device that provided a fat spark at high speeds needed to fly early aircraft. 

“The reason we are here is because of the D&H railroad,” Aiken said. “Some of our town fathers wanted to find a new industry, so they went to Wall Street. The Swiss listened to them and got on the train to see Sidney. When they saw the countryside, they said it looked a lot like home — so this is where they decided to stay.”

In 1929, Bendix Aviation Corporation purchased Scintilla.

Over the years, many companies invested and changed Amphenol. The company was known by many different names as its concentration focused on the leading technology of the time. General Electric purchased a division of the company in the early 1980s, and moved many of the jobs to Florida.

But the research division remained in Sidney, where the engineers continued to invent mechanisms that helped the United States lead the world in technological advances.

Amphenol is a diverse company with many interests. There are manufacturing plants in Mexico and China, but the impetus of design and creation continues to come out Sidney, where Amphenol is committed to the ideal of its founders — precise Swiss mechanical engineering.