Microwave Journal
www.microwavejournal.com/articles/28503-executive-interview-john-richardson-president-of-x-microwave

Executive Interview: John Richardson, President of X-Microwave

A system of modular building blocks and simulation tools that enables designers to reduce development time and get into production

May 31, 2017

What is the elevator speech for your company, X-Microwave?

X-Microwave (X-MW) offers a complete ecosystem for designers to develop RF and microwave products by seamlessly merging every phase of product development, from simulation to prototyping to production hardware.

For the design phase, we offer a suite of online simulation and layout tools. The core products are a broad range of modular drop-in components called X-MWblocks® that serve as an alternative to traditional eval boards at the prototype phase and can then be moved directly into production hardware, like a drop-in mixer.

How did you come up with the concept for the X-MWsystem™?

The idea grew from experience designing high performance custom integrated microwave assemblies on aggressive design cycles with ever-increasing pressure to get it right on the first pass. Like most designers, we started from scratch over and over, used partial analyses, cobbled together partial prototypes, quickly designed custom boards and housings and then crossed our fingers when building the first production hardware that was typically due yesterday.

Couldn't get the simple thought out of mind that there must be a better way, so we decided to take a step back and consider a different approach, a modular approach.

Why do you think a modular approach has not emerged in the industry before X-MW?

It is very interesting that the most common comment I hear from engineers is “Why hasn't anyone ever thought of that?” And a close second is “I have always thought someone should do that.”

I think the fundamental reason it has not happened sooner is that a comprehensive modular approach almost necessarily had to be developed at a new company by engineers that are crazy enough to think it could be done. Existing companies, for very good reasons, tend to stick to their tried-and-true methods: first, because they work and, second, because there are those deadlines that make it never a good time to take a year or two to consider or pursue a radically different approach.

How many companies have partnered with X-MW and how many building blocks are available in your library? What frequency range do they cover?

We currently have over 1,500 manufacturer parts in the portfolio, ranging from DC to 60 GHz and from approximately 20 vendors. We are developing partnerships with about half of these companies to co-market their products on our format and expect to develop the same relationship with all manufacturers.

Watch for the X-Microwave cross-links on our respective part number landing pages, now seen at DLI, Peregrine, MACOM, Custom MMIC and ADI. Mini-Circuits, IDT and others are coming soon. The advice and support, for what we are doing here at X-MW, from many high-level execs and marketing folks at these and other companies, has been inspiring.

Let's say I'm a design engineer, just assigned to develop a microwave subsystem. How do I use the X-MWsystem, from block diagram through launching the product into the market?

There are three basic steps and a fourth optional step.

First, designers use our online system simulator powered by Keysight’s Genesys Spectrasys to optimize and validate their design topologies, while choosing from a wide range of modeled components.

Second, the same blocks chosen in the simulation phase can be configured in our online mechanical layout tool before purchasing to build on our prototype plates.

Step three is where the most significant time and cost savings are realized. For low volume production, the prototype assembly is simply moved into a standard compatible machined housing, rather than heading to the drafting department to start over with multiple custom layouts.

Optionally, for higher volume production, X-Microwave will combine any cascade of standard X-MWblocks into single or multiple convenient assemblies.

Tell us about the types of models that are available for the building blocks and what EDA tools they work with.

Models of X-MWblocks are measured at the launch, purposely not de-embeded to the device leads and, therefore, include all coupling/bias components and PCB (printed circuit board) transmission line losses associated with the complete block. Linear blocks are modeled as S-parameters, and nonlinear blocks are modeled as X-parameters. The models are available for use in our free online system simulator and as installed libraries in Keysight’s Genesys Spectrasys and ADS SystemVue software. Workspaces developed online can be downloaded for more extensive simulation with EEsof tools.

How has the market accepted the X-MWsystem concept? Are you seeing better penetration in any particular segment or geographic region?

The market feedback has been beyond our expectations. We have over 60 customers to date in seven countries. Designers readily see the prototyping phase cost and time saving advantages. A number of companies are using our products in production applications and even designing on the grid for their own internal designs. Component manufacturers see our X-MWblocks as an alternative to traditional eval boards and X-Microwave as a partner in getting their components designed into critical applications.

There is interest worldwide from a broad range of companies and segments. Aerospace and defense is getting the most interest.

Are there limitations to scaling the X-MWsystem, say in frequency or power dissipation?

Not really. We have shown excellent performance to 67 GHz, as far as we can see with our current instrumentation, and though we have only ventured into medium power, there is really no limitation to higher power. Our mechanical approach is traditional, allowing for common thermal management techniques.

Tell us about your own background and the path that led you into the microwave industry.

Out of college, I worked in the defense suppression group of Texas Instruments for a few years. Then I spent a year chasing my beautiful wife over to Sweden where I also got my first taste of hands-on engineering at a small startup. Coming back to the states, I searched for a small technology driven company and landed at Wenzel Associates, where I started on the bench learning to solder and build things and then worked my way to VP and chief engineer.

 Please share a “truism” of the industry or business world that you have learned, perhaps through a painful experience.

Of the industry, I would say people do business with people. And of the business world, I would say starting a business is hard. Neither profound but both true.

If you watch the videos and read books written by successful entrepreneurs, it is interesting that many talk about the 4:00 in the morning cold sweats. I was amazed to learn that it is indeed 4:00.

 When you are not working, what do you do to relax?

Most relaxing is sitting, having coffee with my wife in our sun room. For exercise, I enjoy almost all sports, particularly tennis, golf and basketball. It may not sound relaxing, but I also enjoy reading and learning about successfully building a business.