Software from the University of Oxford has doubled the income stream for feed horn antennae products for Yorkshire-based MM Microwave. The software suite allows for the design of high performance feed horns and antenna arrays that can be rapidly and inexpensively manufactured, moving away from conventional cumbersome corrugated-wall feed horns. Earlier this year, MM microwave signed a licence agreement with Isis Innovation Ltd., the technology transfer arm of the University of Oxford. Since then MM Microwave has realised a 25 percent reduction in development lead time.
The automated software package developed by Prof. Ghassan Yassin and his team at the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics enables the design of high performance smooth-walled feed horns. High performance receivers such as those used in radio-telescopes or satellite communication system employ electromagnetic horns to focus the signal onto the detector system. To preserve the polarization of the incoming signal high performance feed horns employ detailed corrugations that are expensive to manufacture. Prof. Yassin’s group at Oxford in collaboration with Prof. Kittara from Mahido University, Thailand, have developed a software package that economically fabricates feed horns without compromising performance. The software is not only capable of analysing the behaviour of guided propagation waves in structures with circular symmetry but also synthesizing the best design using Genetic Algorithm optimization.
The collaboration is the first step in a long term strategy for MM Microwave. John McGreevy, the managing director of MM Microwave said: “For a high tech firm like ours it is important to keep innovating to stay ahead. Instead of trying to do all that innovation in-house, we decided that part of our strategy for the future was to look at universities where lots of technology is developed.
“One of the first candidates was the smooth walled feed horn design software technology coming out of Oxford. We immediately realised the commercial potential of the software. The straightforward and professional way in which Isis worked made it easy for us to evaluate and incorporate the technology into our business.”
The licensing agreement has led to stronger ties between the company and Oxford. MM Microwave is now in talks that involve secondments and future collaborations in linear accelerator technology as well. According to McGreevy, there have also been other benefits: ”Our strategy of interacting with external innovators is also starting to pay off by inspiring innovation within the company. We have also gained from the exposure to members of the University who may have the skills and interest in our field. This might be an alternative to the more traditional ways of recruiting staff.”
Dr Mark Gostock, technology transfer manager at Isis Innovation added: “It is often the case that a licensing or consulting deal leads to very productive long-term collaborations. Isis is here to make those connections and provide support on all levels.”
The industrial involvement has also benefited the Yassin group. Dr Yassin explained: “Not only have we developed a novel dual polarization feed horn, the collaboration has also led to a studentship that is jointly sponsored by Oxford Astrophysics and MM Microwave.”