Three Score and Still Strong
Bob Stephens is President and GM of Aeroflex / Weinschel.
MWJ: Congratulations on 60 years of operation. What would you attribute to the company’s longevity?
BS: Our longevity is attributable to our dedicated employees of the past and present, many years of loyal customer relationships; dedicated and long term sales channel and supplier-based partners we have worked with over the years. It is all about our dedication and commitment to meet, or exceed customer expectations by delivering the right product at the right price and time.
MWJ: The company is a leader in attenuator and passive control components. What differentiates you from your competitors?
BS: The depth and breadth of our attenuation product line offerings and our long term and consistent focus on the microwave and RF passive component markets has helped us to maintain our long term position amongst the market leaders. In addition, our success at maintaining our core competencies has been fundamentally key to our success in achieving and maintaining a market leadership position. Our core competencies are: 1) our thin & thick film resistor deposition processes, 2) the design, development and manufacturing of rugged injection molded connectors offering the widest high frequency, high power product(s) offerings, and, 3) complex high density packaging of subsystems design and integration services. Lastly, our overall commitment to quality, whether in product offerings, or services and design capability has served us well over the years.
MWJ: What are the most active technology markets or applications these days?
BS: Wireless OEM’s, device-to-device communications such as Wi-Fi, and R & D efforts that support those applications are among the most active applications presently. Communications- be it land, satellite, or wireless continues to attract suppliers. Defense-related markets remain very active and very large, however have recently become more difficult to forecast due to national budget uncertainties.
MWJ: What are most active regions?
BS: Clearly the United States is the largest and most active region for us. Customers within the United States are impacted by many off shore customers of all types (commercial, communications, non-military and military). China has been a growth opportunity over the past few years, however due to the economic unrest it is experiencing of late, demand has softened. We do however, see considerable activity in emerging markets (India, Indonesia, and other South Pacific regions) as they continue their communications infrastructure build outs.
MWJ: What percentage of sales is based on custom design?
BS: Our sales are roughly 50% from custom designed products and 50% from standard catalog-based products.
MWJ: What are the leading considerations that drive customer requirements these days?
BS: Customers require versatility, quick turn design and development with design-for-manufacturing in mind. The goal often is to get the costs out of the product in higher volumes without compromising on performance or quality. Our company’s ability to catering to unique requirements in a timely manner and the ability to offer more than a single product is also often taken into consideration when customers make their downselect decisions.
MWJ: What new system requirements are driving your engineering efforts?
BS: Aside from our substantial custom, “engineered-to-order” Subsystems business, we see many new requirements related to the testing and simulation of the various present day Wireless standards and protocols, many which can be leveraged from our standard Programmable Attenuation Subsystems. Using this base platform, but with modifications/additions to both the hardware and software, we have been able to offer customer configurable Attenuation Profile Simulators, with application-specific profiles in an array of hardware configurations.
Additionally, we have developed Dual-Band Butler Matrices specifically to support Wi-Fi MIMO Channel Emulation testing in the 2.4 – 6.0 GHz frequency range, along with Solid State Programmable Attenuators with both USB 2.0 and TTL control interfaces. These devices offer continuous signal integrity between attenuation states and are available in an assortment of attenuation ranges and resolutions.
Satellite communication systems (33 – 50 GHz range), 4G LTE testing systems, and DOCSIS 3 systems for cable modem applications are also driving engineering efforts.
MWJ: What are some of the most challenging performance issues facing your designers?
BS: The most challenging performance issue facing our design engineers today is how to extend the upper power handling limits of higher frequency coaxial components. This area is critically important since customers want to see distortion-free higher harmonics coming out of their systems. For example, a customer may want an attenuator to handle 50 Watts at 10 GHz, but he also wants to see his system third harmonic generated by his amplifier. This in essence requires a true broadband 30 GHz attenuator capable of handling 50 Watts so as to allow a distortion-less transmission of a 30 GHz signal. We have handled many such difficult inquiries and strive to address these types of requirements by creating first-time product(s)-to-market.
From a Subsystems perspective, higher order matrix configurations (switch, attenuation, transceiver testing) with broader bandwidths and multiple control interfaces are required by many of our customers. These higher levels of integration are expected to be achieved in smaller package densities with essentially no loss in RF performance.