SVG Sit-Down: Nemal Electronics’ Benjamin Nemser on Manufacturing Cable — Legacy, Off-the-Shelf, Custom
The company’s green operation helps keep broadcasters on the air
Nemal Electronics is a company that many have never heard of. But, for a great number of organizations, it’s the small Miami-based manufacturer that keeps them up and running. Nemal Electronics manufactures cables, connectors, panels, breakout boxes — pretty much everything that has to do with cable.
SVG sat down with Nemal Electronics CEO Benjamin Nemser to discuss the company’s move into legacy products; why it expanded during the COVID slowdown; and how it meets customers’ special needs.
‘A Slow Evolution’
First, what exactly is a legacy product?
Legacy products are those that are no longer supported by their original manufacturer and have been around the industry for decades that are still used today but hard to source.
How did you find yourself in the business of supporting legacy products?
It was a slow evolution from when we started the company. It wasn’t even part of the plan. We would get a phone call with someone asking “Can we make this?” or “Can you fix that?” and, all of a sudden, we had another division of the company.
What is an example that most of the older generation in the industry — like you and me — can relate to?
Multicore cables. Specifically, the 26-pin cable used by Sony and other camera manufacturers, which led us to set up a custom bench just for these cables. Even today, we still make the cable. It’s about 2% of what is what at its peak, but we do a fair amount of repair work.
Our goal was to make that 26-pin cable much more durable and easy to repair, so our design has been upgraded through the years. It’s an expensive cable, so being able to repair it is a great option, although it’s still time-consuming with a combination of separate coax braids and conductors and multiple shielded pairs. We’ll also see old analog multicores from the ’70s and digital triax with higher performance. You would be surprised by how many legacy products are still in use, especially in low-budget college environments. That 26-pin is just one example of a legacy product we improved that most of us will remember.
What do you see as the benefit of legacy-product support for the customer?
When we started doing legacy products, our largest requests were in the non-broadcast RF world. We would keep an inventory of legacy RF products just to be able to help our customers keep systems going – even if just temporarily. We’d see customers who had a budget for next year but needed a weird BNC or UHF connector now to get them through until that budget hit. We stock these things.
What about things you have to make from scratch?
We have a full machine shop with a CNC machine that handles anything metal up to about 3 in. in diameter. Today, it’s mostly running DT12 connectors. Although they’re legacy connectors, they’re still current, and we see them going into new installations alongside today’s standard connectors.
Again, the percentage from its peak manufacture is substantially down. We’ve been working on DT12 connectors since the early 1980s. We built tons of cables for ABC Sports when they had a field shop in Lodi, NJ. When NBC was selling their trucks to NEP, they wanted a special cable: a purple polyurethane custom-jacket cable with a green stripe, extremely rugged that could hold up to cleats and lawnmowers, with a temperature range of -50F to +150F, and resistant to almost any type of chemical. You could take a knife to it, and it wouldn’t even go through. We’d test [the cables] in a traditional way and then put them on the streets and let the trucks drive over them. Another improvement of a legacy product still in use today.
The problems we found with the original DT12 cables were that they had horrific aluminum shells, poor strain relief, didn’t have great weather properties, and were hard to solder. All things you don’t want in a cable. We addressed each of these issues one by one, changing the deficient areas while maintaining the standard DT12 interface. We make the cable-mount connectors with an aluminum shell, a tactical version of the cable-mount connector with a steel shell, chassis-mount connectors, fan outs, panels, and breakout boxes. We can terminate the DT12 to little alcove connectors for installation and crimp them on the other end, and people can plug into them. It costs a little more but saves lots of time in the field, and it’s reliable.
Give us some examples of how Nemal came to the rescue of a sports broadcaster.
In 2014, when the World Cup was held in Brazil, TV Globo was the local major rightsholder. They had a bunch of Sony slow-motion cameras that used six fiber cables each, but they had no connectors. Sony told them it would take 26 weeks as they were in the process of discontinuing the system for a new model. They called us.
It involved a lot of engineering, and we pretty much did it as a favor to serve the customer because we knew that we would never make that cable again. That level of customer service paid off. A few years later, they realized, eight weeks before another set of sports games, that all their camera equipment came from Europe and had PAL connectors when they needed NTSC. In that eight weeks, we developed, produced, and delivered PAL-to-NTSC adapters using our CNC machine, although we had to source PAL connectors from various locations. We built 100 or so of these and delivered them one week before the game.
Environmentally Friendly, Scalable, Sustainable Operation
What regulations are you’re under?
I like to call us a vertically integrated manufacturer. We’re not large, but our capabilities are large, manufacturing bulk cable, connectors, assemblies, and panels. You would think that type of manufacturing wouldn’t be environmentally friendly, but you would be wrong. There’s nothing in-house that’s not green.
When we opened our facility, there wasn’t much around, but now it’s a sprawling area, so Miami-Dade County has wells to monitor the ground water. Everything is below detectable limits. They’re looking for one microgram of anything to designate the area as a clean-up site and force the owner to clean it up. They’ve never found anything, and they never will. That’s how we work.
How are you able to control how fast you can scale up?
We design the complete solution in order to control the timeframe and schedule to deliver a package that’s ready to use. Of course, the main element is that we have people that are great at what they do, with the creativity and engineering skills that allow the machines to produce everything. We also have fairly automated manufacturing equipment. So, by bringing in a couple of extra people to do a job, we can produce two or three times as much on the same equipment in the same place, whether it’s a small or large job.
From a manufacturer’s standpoint, how did the COVID epidemic impact Nemal?
During COVID, I asked myself ‘What do we do?’ as there was very little business. We have people that have been with us for 20, even 30 years. I wanted everyone to keep their job at full salary, even if it meant not doing their regular job but doing inventory and helping with projects.
We came together as a team. But the smartest thing we did was expand. We decided to take an old warehouse area in our main building that was used for storage — it’s about 2,000 sq. ft. — and got rid of everything that was in there. We recycled it, gave some away, and sold some. We cleared it out to build the cable-assembly lab we always wanted. It’s got nice workstations and lighting, open ceilings. We ran network cable and installed polished concrete floors and big windows. We didn’t need that during COVID, but we knew that, once COVID was over, it was going to get very busy very fast. Probably busier than ever before with all the backed-up demand. Which was exactly what happened. This space allowed us to bring in more people.
Post COVID, what has been your biggest project?
Right now, we’re finishing a one-year job in Lower Manhattan. It’s a major TV network with 21 studios being built from scratch. We did the cabling design and have just finished the panels that go into every nook and granny in this building.
It was a massive effort with about 100 different variations: fiber, audio, video, Ethernet, SMPTE, DT12, everything. Plus the panels, the cables, assembly, testing, and labeling. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project.
We were honored and flattered to participate in this. Combined, there’s miles and miles of cables and even more Ethernet cable, which we don’t make — just to give you the scale involved. Ours is more specialized and a small quantity of footage in miles, with about 1,000 panels, some with 30 positions each.
Problems That Need To Be Solved
What’s the first thing you do with the customer when it comes to custom work?
We discuss what the issues are. Typically, we find a lot of the same issues in most of our custom jobs, but sometimes there’s something special. Custom work is typically based on problems that need to be solved: mobile units that have to withstand environment extremes, flypacks for news that go to a desert location and fail after two days. And we’re asked, “Can you come up with something that lasts longer?”
What makes a job custom?
A lot of custom work has to do with weight. Camera operators need everything to be perfect with regards to weight and flexibility. Most stabilizer manufacturers use 7-mm-diameter cable. That cable might weigh only a pound, but the operator will say it’s too heavy. We came up with a thinner cable design that was still durable, much lighter, and much more flexible. It’s the same with Formula 1 with the data and video cables in the cars: lighter, durability, and flexibility.
Then there’s custom work that involves lots of cables. NBC wanted a box to handle 16 SMPTE cables, but it would have to be mounted to supports in the ceiling. Then came the custom part: there would be cables going in and out at different directions and angles, with certain sizes and certain ways they wanted the cables to go in. We came up with a design that met all their expectations.
Jibs are similar in that they use lots of cables. One client wanted a design for an interface box to be placed on the jib to handle all the cables of the jib. We designed and built that box on a custom basis.
What is the oddest custom job you’ve ever done?
That would be All Mobile Video. AMV came to us saying that they were doing the U.S. Open but wanted cables that won’t show up in the shots. That meant green cables and green connectors. Making green cables is not a big deal; we do all colors. But, for the connectors, we needed a green anodized shell.
One other odd job that we’re really proud of was for ABC News in Washington, DC, a few years ago. They had a project at the Washington National Cathedral to service the news pool. They wanted a cable video/audio snake and triax that could be hidden. That meant they must match the stone inside the cathedral. They gave me a piece of stone to match the colors. Our graphics person took the color info to where we buy our color concentrates and matched it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.