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IMST: A Research Driven Industrial Engineering and Design House

January 14, 2011
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MWJ: The Institute of Mobile and Satellite communication Technology (IMST) was established as an affiliated institute of the University of Duisburg-Essen in 1992. What were the original reasons for forming the company?

Waldow: In the 1990s GSM mobile communication systems started operation. So, politically, it seemed to be a very promising time to set up a comprehensive research institute for current and future mobile communication technology as well as for electromagnetic compatibility, environmental issues and healthcare. As a result, IMST began operation in September 1992 with a staff of approximately 25. Also, Siemens had its mobile radio devices fab in the immediate neighbourhood. Hence, we started our business in a very encouraging environment.

MWJ: Has the fact that the company has its roots in academia been significant in its development?

Waldow: Yes and no! From the very beginning, the management’s vision was for the company to be a leading-edge technology engineering workbench for industry. As far as academia issues were concerned, we concentrated on extracting promising technological developments and transformed them into real products and competitive solutions. As a matter of fact, we started operation with a core team of engineers who all had their roots in industry. On the other hand, we have had a very close relationship with the University of Duisburg-Essen and continue to do so.

This cooperation has been one of the key factors for the very successful growth of IMST over the years. Let me explain by giving a very instructive example: Professor Wolff, who is the spiritus rector of IMST, had set up a large research group in the 1980s, concentrating on high speed and high frequency III-V semiconductor techniques and circuitry. The main results of these activities were transferred and exploited for the benefit of German and European industry. Additionally, we were heavily involved in the continued development and improvement of this state-of-the-art technology within the 4th, 5th, 6th and currently the 7th European Framework Research Programme.

MWJ: IMST is a research-driven industrial engineering and design house. Many will be aware of the company’s activity in certain sectors, but maybe not all. Please outline those that are relevant to Microwave Journal readers?

Waldow: First, let me state that the roots of IMST were in microwaves. Over 40 years of experience within Professor Wolff’s working groups is the deep-seated basis of our work today. Our main activities focus on circuit development, antenna design and production, wireless modules, software, RF & antenna measurements as well as Si (CMOS), SiGe and GaAs chip design.

Our circuits can be found in diverse applications such as radio communications, radar technology and industrial metrology. The frequencies that we work with are of particular importance. We cover frequencies ranging from 30 MHz to 100 GHz. Various integration levels are also available: completely miniaturised as integrated circuits in Si or III-V technology, as Low Temperature Co-fired Ceramics (LTCC) modules, and, of course, classic printed circuit boards.

MWJ: In the RF and microwave sector what key areas of development is the company currently addressing?

Waldow: Besides the typical industry driven development activities we focus on advanced radar technology for the automotive market. Sophisticated communication technology will be a key factor in developing future transport solutions, e.g. electrical driven vehicles. The company is a member of the car-2-car consortium and we are a partner in ng-connect activities.

MWJ: Geographically, what are IMST’s major markets?

Waldow: From the very beginning we considered the European Union to be our domestic market. Following this philosophy we set up a network of representatives in the important economic regions of Europe. Together with these partners and networks of excellence in academia we initiated a number of strategic advanced R&D projects, co-funded by the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA). This was a real touchstone for the competitiveness of our concepts and solutions.

Furthermore we are very successful in Japan and the USA/Canada region. In particular our microwave work is based on a long history of participation in activities of the IEEE – MTT, which plays a key role in our United States marketing activities.

MWJ: Are there specific regions where the company is particularly strong and are there others that IMST is targeting with regards to expansion?

Waldow: As I have outlined we are strong in Europe, United States and Japan and the bulk of our turnover comes from these regions. On the other hand it is clear, that South America, China and India will be the markets with the greatest potential in the next decade. Consequently, we have been working hard in recent years to establish a sales and support structure in these key markets to exploit in the near future.

MWJ: Microwave Journal readers will be familiar with the company’s software tools such as the EMPIRE XCcel 3D EM field solvers. How significant are these products to IMST’s portfolio?

Waldow: Made by engineers for engineers – is the credo for our highly-developed design software for advanced microwave circuit design and analysis. These products are used worldwide as interactive, high performance development tools for high-frequency technology. IMST has optimized software tools such as Empire XCcel™, MultiLib™, Coplan™ and TOPAS to meet the needs of microwave engineers, offering particularly high-performance, precision and speed during the simulation and synthesis of circuits. Each of these tools has a user-friendly interface and is continually being improved by our developers. Of course, our clients also benefit from the company’s ever-expanding level of support, particularly on-site services.

Empire XCcel™ (www.empire.de) is used for three-dimensional simulations of electromagnetic fields. Coplan™ (www.coplan.imst.de) is a comprehensive library of tried and tested models for co-planar circuit technology and is specially optimized for Agilent’s Advance Design System (ADS™). MultiLib™ (www.multilib.de) is a newly developed software application for calculating multilayered circuits and is also integrated into Agilent’s ADS. The software provides numerous options in the definition and calculation of coupled circuit structures, with no restrictions on horizontal or vertical arrangements, allowing users to calculate complex circuits.

TOPAS (www.topas.imst.de) stands for TransistOr PArameter Scaleable, and is a non-linear model for the simulation and parameter extraction of semiconductor construction elements, such as field effect transistors.

Let me emphasize that we also offer regularly scheduled training seminars for those engineers who wish to learn more about our design tools. Additionally they are extensively used and tested by engineers at IMST in challenging industrial and research projects and therefore always adapted to the latest technologies.

MWJ: What are the latest features that have been introduced to EMPIRE XCcel and what developments can we expect to see in the near future?

Waldow: The latest features of EMPIRE XCcel are 64 bit Cluster computing on linux and windows, fast FDTD simulation while swapping on hard disc and continuous GUI improvements with special emphasis on user demands. The focus for future developments will be to stay leading edge with regard to simulation speed and efficiency by optimizing the software to the new CPU generation that is coming up in 2011.

MWJ: There are a number of companies offering EM software. What is IMST’s strategy for staying competitive and developing its market share?

Waldow: Offering fast and accurate simulation tools with the focus on solving large and complex problems with an easy to use and flexible GUI. Add to that, worldwide competent support by qualified and experienced RF engineers

MWJ: What other IMST software tools should Microwave Journal readers be aware of?

Waldow: We currently have developed an advanced Spur simulator for fractional N PLLs, which is launched as a beta version for a closed user group. The simulator is able to calculate coupling, fractional and reference spurs, depending on the real charge pump transfer characteristic. Furthermore, it includes phase noise module. PLL measurement equipment that enables combination plots of phase noise, including spur occurrence and levels. The simulator is able to reproduce these plots by highly accurate simulations. It is anticipated that this tool will be launched commercially in the near future.

MWJ: IMST is active in many national and international organisations. Name some of the key ones and their areas of activity?

Waldow: In the microwave and antenna sector our IEEE activities are the most important. We have been working on standardization as well as organizing workshops and sessions. A couple of outstanding IMST engineers are working within the review committees and contributing a lot of papers to the symposia and the regular events of the IEEE.

In the area of mobile communications the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) should be mentioned as we closely cooperate with the telecom industry and other research institutes. Our LTE and connected car communications activities are also significant.

MWJ: Why does the company feel it is important to partner with such organisations?

Waldow: These contacts and relationships are our ‘network of excellence’. They offer us a close insight into the current and future trends in microwaves, microelectronics and wireless technologies, enabling IMST to meet customers’ requirements in the future.

MWJ: Explain the activity of the company’s Accredited Test Centre.

Waldow: IMST’s accredited testing centre provides many critical measuring and testing services in accordance with CE, EMC guidelines, for example, and SAR values, for radio devices and mobile phones. As can be seen, its focus is as a test centre for mobile communications.

All tests are carried out according to national, European, and international standards as appropriate for the customer’s requirements. We also offer professional measurement technology to test the performance capabilities of antennas, HF materials, circuits, and even complete systems such as GSM/UMTS. For quality and reliability testing, our centre has protocols for mobile phone batteries and environment simulations – temperature, humidity, and mechanical tests – which are important distinguishing features of modern products. In addition to device-related acceptance and approval controls, component characterization, and end product tests, we also provide our clients with safety inspection and assessments in electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields.

The test centre has been certified and accredited according to DIN EN ISO 9001:2008 and DIN EN ISO/IEC17025. Our testing laboratories have also been recognized by the Federal Office of Motor Transport. As an independent testing institute, we also have extensive qualifications for end devices, such as the CTIA and mobile network operators. The centre is compliant to the highest standards of quality and offers a prompt, punctual and tailor-made service. If we cannot accommodate requests directly, we have a constantly growing network of expert partner laboratories that we can recommend.

MWJ: Outline IMST’s development of high performance microchips, particularly in the RF and microwave range?

Waldow: The development of micro-electronic circuits, or chip design, is one of the main business fields IMST offers to customers. Special focus is on initiating and coordinating comprehensive design services for integrated circuits and IP cores. From the design of circuit blocks (IP cores) to System-on-Chip (SoC), the goal is to design ICs for world class application with high quality, reliability and in-time. Today, circuits designed by IMST can be found in diverse applications such as mobiles, PCs, GPS equipment, cars, satellites and even airplanes.

Since IMST started operation, the development of RF and mm-wave integrated circuits has always been a prime focus. The company has developed circuits for a large number of RF and mm-wave systems using bipolar or CMOS technologies as well as III-V technologies. The design experience in terms of frequency range for RF and mm-wave ICs goes from MHz up to nearly 100 GHz. Centred round the IC Design services, we also offer additional business services including the delivery of tested ICs.

An important thing to mention is that for many years IMST has been a competence centre for LTCC technology and the design and fabrication of these multilayer modules can be a cost efficient alternative to a fully integrated chip.

MWJ: How does IMST plan to expand and increase profitability in the near future?

Waldow: Starting as a pure technology engineering workbench for our customers, we want to continue growing in this respect in coming years. On the other hand, we intend to extend our activities and launch new products and solutions to the market. To this end, a special division of our company called ‘wireless solutions’ started operations a few months ago.

Wireless communication systems are becoming increasingly important in all areas of daily life. Learning from the telecommunications sector, industry and private households soon demanded the benefits of being ‘wireless’. Whether the field is communications, localization via radio, or narrow and broadband radio systems, wireless applications are unlimited!

Therefore, IMST is continually expanding its know-how in developing services for wireless systems. Our target-orientated approach has allowed us to play a decisive role in the success of many well-known companies’ products across a variety of business sectors, such as process automation, building automation, medical technology and the automotive sector (car-2-car communication).

We can assist our customers at any stage of product development – from feasibility studies to system design, fabrication, and certification. One of our special strengths is our ability to draw on the comprehensive fund of knowledge within our organization.

One point of particular note is that we have our own product family in WiMOD™ – a range of pre-qualified radio modules for the license-free ISM bandwidth 433/868 MHz and 2.4 GHz. The starter-kit and software provide the means for a quick introduction to wireless technology. Hardware and software can be adapted to customer needs quickly and at low cost at any time. Importantly, we can support the integration of a WiMOD™ module into a customer’s product and also create customized radio solutions to individual specifications. Detailed information can be found on: www.wireless-solutions.de.

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