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Microwave Life Savers: Small Companies at IMS That May Keep You Afloat

May 15, 2012
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It would be very difficult to see every booth at a tradeshow. But isn’t it great to come away from a show with a hidden gem that you stumbled upon? Here are a few to put on your schedule. From components for infrastructure to custom MMICs for an aerospace/defense application, these companies just might be the solution you will need in a pinch this year.

If you have been anywhere near a base station lately, no doubt you or someone you know has uttered “passive intermodulation” or “PIM”, more than likely with some angst. Unlike low-level noise, which tends to cover broad bandwidths, PIM results in discrete signals that fall within the operating bandwidth of a wireless communications receiver, capable of interfering with desired signals. At sufficiently high magnitudes, PIM distortion can desensitize a communications receiver, resulting in poor quality of calls or even dropped calls. To learn more about PIM and some simple, yet robust cable assembly solutions, stop by some of the industry leading cable companies. San-tron (booth #2219) will be demonstrating how their new line of low-PIM jumper cables deliver PIM performance of -158 dBc standing still and then when heavy vibration is applied, continues to remain extremely stable, degrading just 2 dB.

Does your specific application call for performance not available in a catalog MMIC? Visit the team at Custom MMIC in booth #3210 to learn how attainable a uniquely designed MMIC can actually be. This particular design house offers three levels of engagement including access to their private stock of performance driven designs for rapid delivery. From single-function to multi-function, Custom MMIC is a good fit for companies that wish to outsource their design activity, especially when you need a custom design in a specific compound semiconductor technology such as GaAs, GaN, SiC or InP. Custom MMIC will be demonstrating their latest GaAs MMIC low-noise amplifier (LNA) chip optimized for 30 GHz satellite communications with a typical noise figure of 1.7 dB in their booth. With dozens of years of combined experience designing MMICs for microwave and millimeter-wave applications, it is worth a booth visit to talk about how your own unique design requirements could be realized.

LPKF in booth #2409 may be the biggest tease at the show. There is not an engineer in the business that would not want to have a machine on their bench that outputs their circuit ideas like a desktop printer. Don’t believe me? Eighty-five percent of the respondents to Microwave Journal’s April online poll question named the PCB prototype milling machine as the most important tool in their design arsenal. I am talking about real boards. Boards that can be tested, tweaked and tried again, without the interruption of going outside to the board house. Sure, it would be great if you could grab one of these at Staples, but unfortunately these German-engineered laser machines cost a couple of bucks. But the payoff in design efficiency is immeasurable and the LPKF booth staff can show you how to sell the value of your productivity to even the stingiest CFO.

Moving from design to manufacturing, other companies using lasers to save the day are Laser Services in booth #215, Thunderline-Z in booth #601 and Litron in booth #2229. With the bulk of vendors highlighting new RF components, software and test instruments, its easy to overlook the smaller group of companies providing manufacturing services, but IMS is a great place to meet the folks who understand the special physical requirements that go into microwave products. Laser Services is an experienced high power laser job shop using YAG and C02lasers to perform any number of laser precise cutting, drilling, marking, etching and welding jobs for you. They maintain a stash of name brand alumina substrates and frozen epoxies andoffer unique design-for-manufacturability solutions such as an innovative laser ablation technique for solder damming.

Many of the components found on the exhibition floor are used in harsh environments and require advanced packaging. Thunderline-Zopenedtheir own laser center last year, focused on augmenting their full-service packaging services. Their solutions include laser lidding and testing of hermetic modules, and laser feedthru installation that will allow you to obtain some of the tightest pin-to-pin tolerances imaginable. Litron Inc. also provides laser welding, laser sealing and laser cutting services for aerospace, industrial and medical components from hi-rel electronic microwave packages to class three medical implant devices.

Speaking of harsh environments, are you working in space or just looking for space-level type design and manufacturing capabilities? Hi-rel multi-chip modules and RF semiconductor packaging solutions are a specialty of KCB Solutions in booth #3513. If you are concerned about thermal or electrical stability in high power applications, talk to them about their new weightless, void-free approach to eutectic die attach.

Wondering where you might possibly turn to handle overflow in production or high frequency test without going off-shore? SemiGen in booth #301 is the partner you’re looking for. Microwave assembly and semiconductor packaging is an art that is not lost on this assembly house and they also offer you fast delivery of bonding supplies and diodes and capacitors fromtheir own in-house RF Supply Center.

Speaking of high frequency testing, do you need a signal generator for your ATE set up, but do not need all the bells and whistles of a big brand piece of equipment? Lab Bricks from Vaunix in booth #1129 are a completeline of USB powered, miniature, yet robust, signal generators, attenuators and now an RF switch that are software-controlled and easy to use. Each device comes with a USB flash drive containing the GUI software and digital version of the programming guide, along with a 6-ft. USB cable. The Lab Brick is compatible with NI’s Labview so that you can easily incorporate them into your custom test set-up. Several small companies are now offering compact, USB powered testing solutions so look for them at the show.

Have a great show and let me know if I can dig up any other gems for you.

David Strand is CEO and Brand Director of Strand Marketing and a microwave industry insider.  You can follow his insights on Twitter @ StrandMkt or reach him at dstrand@strandmarketing.com.

Recent Articles by David Strand, Strand Marketing

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