Tell us the story behind Dow-Key Microwave’s formation and key events in the company’s history.
We were founded in 1945 by Paul Dow as a telegraph key manufacturer, hence the name Dow-Key. Originally incorporated in Canada, over several decades the company moved to Minnesota, Utah and ultimately landed in California, where we’ve been headquartered since 1968. As telecommunications evolved, the Dow-Key product evolved from telegraph keys to the more complex electromechanical RF and microwave relays and switches produced today. Dow-Key was acquired by the Dover Corporation in 1996 and is now part of the Microwave Products Group (MPG) within the Engineered Systems operating segment of Dover.
Dow-Key is one of several Microwave Products Group companies. What’s your specific product and market charter? To what extent do you collaborate with the other MPG companies?
MPG is made up of four iconic brands, namely K&L Microwave, Pole Zero, BSC and Dow-Key Microwave. We all offer product lines that span from discrete components to complex integrated assemblies, with a focus on difficult applications and demanding requirements and, of course, are dedicated to customer satisfaction and building long-term relationships. Where we differ is in the product categories we specialize in. While Pole Zero, K&L and BSC are best known as filter manufacturers, each with their own specialty, Dow-Key’s offerings include microwave relays, switches and switch matrices.
With respect to collaboration, we are definitely all part of one big MPG team, sharing engineering, manufacturing and testing resources, microwave industry expertise and building integrated solutions together, such as complex switch filter banks.
What can you share about your product and market footprint: types of products, frequency ranges, primary markets and the geographic distribution of your customers?
We have three main product lines: switches (coax, waveguide and board-mounted), space-qualified switches and matrix systems. They make up 60 percent, 20 percent and 20 percent of our sales, respectively.
Our product portfolio offers a wide range of performance specifications; for example,
- frequencies from DC to 70 GHz,
- switch configurations from single pole double throw (SPDT) all the way up to SP14T,
- high reliability up to 10 million cycles,
- power options from 12 to 28 VDC and
- switch matrix solutions as simple as 2 x 2 up to 94 x 110 and beyond.
Dow-Key products are geared toward more complex applications and environments, such as commercial aerospace, military radar, electronic warfare and missiles, space and satellites, telecommunications and test and measurement, which generally require high quality, high reliability custom or semi-custom switches able to operate in challenging environments.
That said, we have leveraged our decades of switch design capabilities to develop a standard parts catalog, allowing customers in more commercial applications, such as medical devices and data communications, to gain access to high quality, cost effective switches with lower lead times.
We have sales throughout the world, although our top markets are the USA, Europe and China.
What distinguishes Dow-Key in the view of your customers?
The Dow-Key brand is synonymous with high performance, quality and reliability, in addition to our “best-in-class” customer service. Even so, we continue to make improvements on our already world-class operation on a daily basis. Our team is focused on continuous improvement, and it shows from initial customer contact to long after our products are delivered. Our other key advantage is not only having one of the broadest offerings of electromechanical RF switches and relays, space grade switches and integrated switch matrices, but being willing to provide custom solutions to meet our customers’ unique needs.
Bottom line, our customers keep coming back because they can trust us to solve their technical challenges and to be there to support the entire lifecycle of their programs. This is evidenced by our 2017 customer satisfaction survey results, indicating that over 88 percent of all customers surveyed would recommend Dow-Key and over 97 percent of key customers surveyed would recommend us.
Over the past few years, you’ve been introducing new long-life, high-repeatability switches as part of your Reliant™ series, with upwards of 5 million cycles. How did you achieve that level of repeatability and what types of applications are you targeting?
Yes, we’ve launched 5-million cycle, SP6T switches, as well as our latest SPDT switch offering over 10 million cycles, both with high repeatability (< 0.03 dB) over their entire lifecycle. It was a massive engineering effort, that wasn’t just the design of the product but included establishing exhaustive testing protocols and new data acquisition methods using advanced test equipment, as well as expanding our supplier base. When all was said and done, we were immensely impressed with the overall performance and stability of the new switch designs, as demonstrated by our extended insertion loss repeatability test results shown below. In fact, the switches were tested up to 17 million cycles with minimal degradation.
Automated test equipment applications are the primary target for the Reliant switch technology, where reliable and repeatable switching are critical to high-rate production testing. Many of the design enhancements incorporated into our Reliant series have since been applied to our space and harsh environment switches.
Dow-Key Microwave has a long history supplying to the space market. What changes are you seeing in customer requirements with the development of commercial launch vehicles (e.g., SpaceX), small satellites and the broadband satellite constellations (e.g., OneWeb)? How are you positioning Dow-Key to serve this dynamic market?
As low earth orbit (LEO), “smallsats” and very high throughput satellites (vHTS) continue to evolve, Dow-Key is prepared to service these emerging space applications with an array of existing and new products currently under development. Commercial smallsats generally require smaller switch configurations, such as our space-qualified 509 series SPDT PCB mount switch, which is less than 25 percent of the size and weight of its traditional SMA-connectorized counterparts.
As a leading supplier in the space and satellite market, Dow-Key also has a full offering of space-qualified waveguide and coax switches covering frequencies up to 70 GHz. These discrete switches can also be packaged in efficient switch-block assemblies to support the bandwidth demands of vHTS platforms in a very small footprint.
In general, commercial customers get the benefit of Dow-Key’s nearly 50 years of space heritage, reducing the need for nonrecurring engineering and costly qualification costs, without sacrificing quality or reliability.
Cellular is another dynamic market, with significant R&D going into the development of 5G. Is this new generation an opportunity for Dow-Key?
It’s more than an opportunity. It’s already impacting our existing revenue mix, as well as our product roadmap. 5G infrastructure and component manufacturers are turning to Dow-Key to develop advanced switch matrices and switch filter banks to support the testing of their next-generation products. 5G is introducing many new and complex demands on RF testing, including higher frequencies and multiple bandwidths coexisting in the same environment. Here’s where Dow-Key and our customers really benefit from being part of the Microwave Products Group, giving us access to the advanced filter and integrated microwave assembly capabilities of the other MPG brands: K&L Microwave, Pole Zero and BSC filters.
What’s your view of the U.S. defense market? The administration intends to increase military spending significantly. Do you see this plus-up of budgets benefiting the RF/microwave industry and Dow-Key?
With the pending increases in defense spending, we are seeing an increase in proposals. There is a lot of activity in electronic warfare, missile and communications systems, and Dow-Key is a critical solution provider for all of these applications. We are the industry expert when high power, high altitude, high vibration, high reliability or any combination of these are required.
Tell us about your background and what led you to the GM role at Dow-Key.
I have a background in mechanical engineering, with a BS and MS from California State University – Northridge (CSUN). I have worked in fitness equipment, medical device and defense and aerospace companies. Most recently, I was at Pacific Scientific Electro Kinetics Division as director of quality. Eight years ago, I came to Dow-Key as director of quality and, within a year, I was promoted to general manager.
It has been a great, fun and challenging experience. Much of my time has been spent building and improving the operations but, most recently, I am focused on spending time with customers and the sales team. It has been a rewarding experience to learn more about the dynamic RF and microwave market, but even more rewarding has been building a really positive and healthy culture, where our employees truly feel they are making a difference in the world, by connecting and protecting people, and are proud to be part of the Dow-Key family.
When you’re not working, how do you enjoy spending your time?
I love to play, coach and watch soccer. My wife and I are on the board of directors of the local American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), and you can find me most weekends at a soccer field somewhere between Bakersfield and San Diego. I was very disappointed when the United States men’s national soccer team (USMNT) was eliminated from the world cup, as I was planning to travel to Russia and watch them play.