Microwave Journal’s European Editor, Richard Mumford, quizzes Dr. Peter Krauss, managing director of Mician GmbH, about the development of EM simulation tools, their application in emerging markets and the importance of collaboration. He also gives a European perspective of global markets and European Commission funded initiatives before admitting to having an ambition to own a Greek island.
After receiving a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Bremen, Germany, Dr. Krauss began work in the university’s Microwave Department in 1991. His research was related to the computer-aided design of passive waveguide components based on the Mode-Matching method.
From 1995 to 1999, in cooperation with Microwave Innovation Group (MIG), Germany, he worked on the development of the company’s CAD tool. In 1998 he co-founded Mician GbR with Dr. Jan M. Reiter and in 2004 he co-founded Mician GmbH with Dr. Ralf Beyer and Dr. Thomas Sieverding. His current work includes microwave CAD technology for EM simulation and optimization.
MWJ – Can you give some background as to how Mician came to be established and what were its initial aims?
Krauss – The original goal was to create a new EM simulator, which avoided the use of time consuming 3D solvers wherever possible. We wanted to focus on applying the Mode-Matching Technique and its derivatives instead, even on structures that at first glance seem to be suited to 3D solvers only. This powerful simulation method, together with an ergonomic GUI that provides flexibility and openness finally led to the current stage in the evolution of the µWave Wizard.
MWJ – What is the basic philosophy of the company?
Krauss – The establishment of Mician was born out of the idea of providing microwave engineers with fast and accurate design tools that significantly speed up the development process by reducing cycle time. This is still our overriding philosophy.
MWJ – In what specific sectors are your design tools used? And are there any particular areas that have come to the fore in recent years?
Krauss – In particular, the last decade has seen cellular radio come to the fore, especially for private communication and the introduction of new services has resulted in the steady rise of transmission capacity in such networks. At high spectrum efficiency base station equipment is required to achieve optimal utilisation of the confined available frequency bands. This leads to increased demands on associated components such as filters and diplexers. These have to provide inter-band isolation with high edge steepness and rejection level, while maintaining the lowest possible insertion loss in the pass band. Further requirements are short-term availability, compact size, low cost and easy implementation, especially for new generation base station equipment. Such demands cannot be met by standard filter designs and therefore specific combline or coaxial filter structures are favoured which enable the realisation of transmission zeros at finite frequencies. These rejection requirements can be met by tailored filter characteristics with a minimum number of resonators.
The development of such filtering equipment is being supported by field theoretical CAD tools, which provide exact determination of the hardware dimensions and accurate prediction of the responses. Although there are commercial tools available for such tasks, which are based on different methods, often they are not suitable for the overall optimisation of the complex high order filters and diplexers, which are needed for, base station applications due to the extreme computational requirements. However, Mode-Matching based CAD like the µWave Wizard is an approved tool for fast and efficient design of filter structures. While, in the past, there was a lack of flexible modelling of special shapes using the Mode-Matching technique, e.g. for coaxial waveguide structures, the recent extension of the Mode-Matching approach by Boundary Contour Mode-Matching (BCMM) as well as the combination of the Mode-Matching with finite element modules eliminates such modelling deficiencies and yields an efficient CAD method.
However, the design and optimization of base station components is not the only domain our software can be utilised for. Other fields of interest include integrated waveguide technology, satellite communication, point-to-point radio systems, space applications like radio astronomy and radar technology, and plasma physics to mention just a few.
MWJ – Technologically are there emerging markets where your design tools can be utilised?
Krauss – As I have already mentioned, the telecommunication market is a very important one for us and I don’t think it has reached its peak. For example it will be very exciting to see how over-the-air broadcasting for television for mobile devices will develop in the future. Since it requires different technology this could become an interesting market.
MWJ – What particular features are customers demanding and where do you see the development of microwave design tools heading in the near future?
Krauss – Over the past ten to fifteen years the evolution in design tools has been enormous. Today it is possible to simulate microwave parts with software tools, which just a few years ago an engineer had to optimize with screws, and the results are impressive. Although these tools are quite expensive the return of investment for the customers is very high since they soon reduce cycle and customer return times. Significantly, in the future, design tools will become even more powerful due to the continuous enhancements concerning the hardware and the more powerful PCs become the more powerful the software tools will become as well. I am quite sure that there will be design software tools available in the future we cannot even imagine today. With the increase in computation power the demands from customers for even more powerful software will also increase. So, with regards to our tool, with more computation power the fast Mode-Matching method will be significantly accelerated too!
MWJ – Mician is a European design tool developer. Does this have any bearing on the geographical markets that you address?
Krauss – This question is difficult to answer. On the one hand the company is developing well and constantly increasing its annual turnover but on the other hand one never knows how much better things could have developed if we were, for example a North American company. If that were the case our US customers would not have to complete the paperwork that they need to get approval for the purchase of a non-domestic product. Additionally one always has to consider that the markets are different everywhere in the world, as is the way of doing business, especially in Asia. And although we have already learned a lot, there is plenty more to learn. In that regard it is very helpful to have sales representatives in the respective countries since they know the culture as well as the business mentality. We are very lucky though that Mician is serving the market with niche products in the Internet age. I do not think that we would have been so successful if we had started 30 years earlier, or at least it would have been very much harder work.
MWJ – Where would you say are the strongest markets for your products geographically? Has this changed over recent years and are there emerging marketplaces that you are targeting?
Krauss – The strongest market for our products has been and still is North America but in recent years we have seen strong growth in Asia too, especially in countries like India, Korea and China. Within Europe currently our strongest markets are in the west and south but in the near future I envisage the new member states of the European Community in Eastern Europe becoming more and more important.
MWJ – The horn antenna synthesis tool is your latest introduction. What prompted this development and are there similar innovations in the pipeline?
Krauss – Although various analysis tools for the calculation of horn antennas are available, the synthesis and optimization of broadband, low cross-polarization and high directivity horns is still a challenge. To ease and accelerate the antenna design for engineers, we have developed a new horn antenna synthesis and optimization tool for multi-mode and tracking horns. As I have mentioned our focus is on speed and accuracy. Therefore, we are using mode matching and the spherical wave expansion for the computation. Moreover, analytic equations are used for the initial design and the engineer can directly use these geometries as starting values for the optimization. In general, we are looking forward to adding more synthesis tools combined with powerful optimizers to the µWave Wizard to provide optimal workflow.
MWJ – Work on this synthesis tool was funded by ESA/ESTEC*. How did this funding come about and would this development have been possible without it?
Krauss – Together with our cooperation partner we submitted our proposal on an ESA [European Space Agency] tender. However, we would have developed this new synthesis tool without this funding but at a later date. Having said that, the technical preparation with ESA and our cooperation partner was invaluable for the success of this work.
MWJ – Is such funding vital to Mician’s continued product development?
Krauss – The funding itself is not vital but the collaboration with other companies and organisations is becoming more and more important to us.
MWJ – What other organisations/companies are you collaborating with and why do you think it is important to do so?
Krauss – Mainly we collaborate with universities. This offers great opportunities for students as well as their professors to make that important step from theory to practical experience. Furthermore we get important feedback from a totally different perspective — the research and development point of view, which is different again from the perspective of our commercial customers. Combined, this varied feedback is very useful in helping us to make development decisions for the future and, in the long run, is of huge benefit to all parties — the product will be improved and the customers receive a tailor-made product that facilitates their daily work.
Regarding collaboration with companies, we are cooperating with many of our customers and even work closely with companies that at first glance seem to be competitors such as CST. Although we try to circumvent the use of 3D solvers whenever possible, sometimes it is not and therefore we have agreements with some other software suppliers which has lead to the introduction of an interface in their tools which makes it possible to import data files from our tool into theirs.
MWJ – Does the European Community support businesses such as Mician and if so in what way?
Krauss – Indeed the European Community does support businesses such as ours. Several programs have been launched in recent years that don’t focus so much on supporting one single company but are intended to build cooperation between companies from different European countries and additionally try to involve at least one university or a research and development institute. The support itself is mainly monetary, with part of the development costs being borne by the European Community. It goes without saying that in order to receive EC support projects must be of great importance for the participating companies as well as for the community itself.
MWJ – When developing the latest version of µWave Wizard what determines the direction the development takes and what influence do potential customers have?
Krauss – Several different factors have impacted on the development of the latest version of µWave Wizard, one of which is to meet our development aims for the next five years. This long-term strategy mainly concerns the architecture and further features of the tool. Additionally we also have a middle term strategy for the next two years where we will try to implement new elements, new features and other improvements. Finally, the short-term strategy concerns those issues that need to be resolved due to urgent demands from customers or our engineers.
In general the influence of current customers is as important as that from potential customers because they have been working with our software tool for years and know it as well as we do. So, it is very important for us to listen to their comments and know their requirements. Also, they see the software from a different perspective as they use it on a daily basis and software improvements are often the result of considering their experiences. Furthermore, we carry out market research, where potential customers are particularly important. Without the input we have gained from customers over the years, many improvements would not have been implemented.
MWJ – Whenever new versions of design tools are launched they claim to be faster, simpler, more in-depth etc, than ever before. What particular limitations govern the speed at which such tools are developed?
Krauss – It is always a question of the complexity of what is being developed. Some tasks are very easy to develop and implement while others require a great deal of planning as well research prior to development. Also, memory or other computer related influences have to be taken into account.
MWJ – When developing design tools is there a danger of building in complexity and making them overcomplicated for the everyday tasks that design engineers actually use them for?
Krauss – There is always the risk that the user does not understand the intention behind the functionality, although we try to avoid this since we claim to have a very user-friendly tool. But the risk is totally ours, since there are so many tools available and most of them take a different approach, it is often difficult for the user to understand every software tool at first sight. We always try to use standard UI architecture and UI elements that most users know from other software. Of course, we try to keep our tool as easy to use as possible but sometimes it isn’t always possible to avoid incorporating features that are non-self-explanatory. Our customers are of great help in this regard as they give us advice and they try to make us see things from their point of view.
MWJ – What ambitions does Mician have as a company and what are its aims for the next five years?
Krauss – The main aim for the next five years is to become rich and famous and to purchase an island in Greece, which will become our retirement residence! Joking aside, our ambitions are to become established as a well-known company that provides sophisticated synthesis and design tools, which are based on the combination of the Mode-Matching technique and its derivatives as well as other methods. Our challenge is to be one step ahead of what the microwave design engineers might need in the future and the aim is to always be able to provide them with fast and accurate working design tools that significantly speed up the development process by reducing cycle times.
*ESTEC stands for European Space Research and Technology Centre