Executive Interview: Philippe Garreau, Chairman of Microwave Vision Group
Tell us about your early career as an electrical engineer.
After graduating in 1990, I started as an electrical engineer at SUPELEC research laboratory. I was there for six months before I was recruited for a one-year period as a young graduate trainee by the European Space Agency (ESA) in the Netherlands, in 1991. I was mainly involved in developing rapid measurement techniques using compact antenna test ranges and innovative 2D probe array technologies.
Outline your history with SATIMO and your development of the company.
After one year at ESA, I went back to France in 1992, as an electrical engineer in charge of the antenna measurement activities. SATIMO was a small company created by professor Jean Charles Bolomey from SUPELEC University. He founded SATIMO in 1986, and we were mainly providing electromagnetics expertise to the French Department of Defense. I spent four years combining studies and experiments, thanks to the support of the DGA (a French military organization).
In parallel, I received a PhD from Paris XI University, based on the research accomplished at ESA. I took advantage of this four-year period to develop prototypes of a new probe array technology. This new technology comprised the core of our future product that has largely contributed to the development of the company. In 1996, I was elected as CEO of SATIMO, and my main objective was to industrialize products for rapid, near-field measurement techniques. This technology was applied to multiple products in near-field applications, at first dedicated to the civil telecommunications market and, shortly after that, to the aerospace and defense market.
Explain how SATIMO’s growth led to the formation of the Microwave Vision Group (MVG) and how it is structured.
SATIMO went public in 2005, and while the company was strongly addressing the telecommunications market, we increasingly received requests from the aerospace and defense market. To efficiently address this market, rapid technology was not enough, and the need for having accurate positioning equipment and complementary products was required.
We decided to move in this direction and, in 2008, SATIMO announced the purchase of a majority stake in ORBIT/FR, a well established and recognized company in precision electro-mechanical positioning systems based in the U.S., with production facilities in Israel. At that time, we brought those two companies together to form a unique group we named the Microwave Vision Group (MVG). Since then, the group has obtained a complete portfolio of measurement systems dedicated to the antenna test industry.
Explain the company’s main activities and the primary sectors where it operates.
Our main activities focus on antenna measurement. They are grouped in the Antenna Measurement Systems (AMS) department and represent 80 percent of the company's revenues. In this department, our product portfolio includes turnkey test systems using our patented rapid multi-probe technology, traditional far-field and near-field technology, compact ranges, antennas, software, advanced positioning mechanisms, anechoic chambers and absorbing materials. This department operates mainly in the civil telecommunications sector, including mobile phone, base station, laptop, automotive, IoT, etc. and in the aerospace and defense sector: radar, ground, air and space, drones, weapons, satellites, aircraft, etc.
What is your primary role at the company?
As CEO, my primary role consists of ensuring a good vision of what will be the products of tomorrow and, at the same time, to ensure that we satisfy the current needs of our measurement customer community. I am also fully involved in the financial and operational aspects of the group, and I am continuously involved in the research and development program.
How vital is innovation and research to MVG?
Research and innovation are crucial to MVG. In all our markets, my ambition is to innovate in order to launch products with significant added value that, in themselves, guarantee the group’s future margins. These margins allow us to maintain a high R&D investment level of 10 percent of our revenue, resulting in the development of new, innovative products. This virtuous circle constitutes MVG’s DNA, and I work assiduously to ensure its expansion, year after year.
Is standardization important to MVG and does the company play an active role in the development of standards?
Standardization is important to the industry as a whole, as it gives guidelines to perform and evaluate measurements. Our company applies its expertise by participating in standardization committees around the world. We are particularly involved in the civil telecommunications sector, where new technology is being developed at an incredibly accelerated pace.
What is the company’s approach to quality management?
The approach on quality management is strictly related to customer satisfaction, which is our main objective. Our management ensures control of the agenda, from pre-sales up to the acceptance of the product and after-sales support. It requires communication between system engineering teams and sales to ensure that we know exactly what the customer wants and that it matches what we are able to do. It demands high levels of control during the production of the measurement system.
An important approach to quality consists of maximizing the modularity of all subsystem components in order to ensure reliability of the systems. Higher reactivity in the production of large measurement systems is also important. Finally, our quality policy requires transversal activity between application engineers and project engineers; it is designed to validate functionalities of a measurement system from top to bottom, while our engineers finalize the accuracy according to customer requirements.
A few years ago, MVG was organized into four business units. What are they and what is the advantage of this approach?
Indeed, our group is organized into four departments, three are purely operational, and one is focused particularly on R&D. The three operational departments are: AMS, Electromagnetic Compatibility Systems (EMC), and Environmental and Industrial Control (EIC). The fourth department is National Security and Healthcare (NSH).
The key success factors of the three operational departments stem from the synergies of the group as a whole, as well as its partnerships and its capabilities in addressing different markets. Our AMS department is historically the largest and most significant in revenues; however, our strategies for the EMC market are gaining ground, and we are exponentially increasing market share year after year. Lastly, our EIC department, which focuses on smaller sized, less complex monitoring products, is currently markedly contributing to the revenue of the group, thanks to some significant innovation in our products for this line.
The NSH department benefits from the sharing of research and development resources. We are convinced that a large part of our technologies (digital transducer, probe array, ultra-rapid transceiver technologies) will play a major role in developing new products in the healthcare and security domain.
Geographically, where is the company witnessing the greatest expansion and in what technology sectors?
The group operates worldwide through 12 entities. We have two large production units (Paris and Tel Aviv) and three expertise centers directly associated (Manchester, for anechoic chambers, San Diego, for absorbers, and Rome, for antennas), then seven subsidiaries with the capacity to manage high level system engineering throughout the sales process and follow through in project management. These are in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Munich, Goteborg, Bangalore, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
We have seen growth in North America, Europe, the Middle East and in Asia at quite an even rate over the years. Our strength is related to our geographical localization. We take care to respect the culture of our customers and choose to have system engineering teams close at hand, close to their culture. This also allows our group to establish a good mix between the day-to-day practical needs of our customers and our vision of future products.
Emerging technologies are presenting challenges for antenna test and measurement. How specifically is MVG meeting these challenges, especially in the millimeter wave sector?
One of the bigger challenges is the test capacity increase needed for millimeter wave product development, as some tests will be done over-the-air (OTA) instead of through cables. We can see already that companies are starting to transform their labs from purely conducted test labs to OTA-based test labs. Those tests will include the devices having the agility to network communication, including handovers in dynamic RF environment scenarios, representing real environments.
Technologies traditionally applied in our products, mainly used in aerospace and defense markets, can be used for millimeter wave applications, bringing efficiency and fast time-to-market for customers. For instance, Mini-Compact Ranges, Mini-T-Scan and MicroLab, which are particularly compact systems that we have dubbed “Little Big Labs” are already available.
In combination with state-of-the-art multi-probe technology and advanced software applications for data processing and analysis, we are optimizing our technologies for millimeter wave applications. Currently, we are excited about our latest addition to the “Little Big Labs” family: the StarLab 50 GHz; our first multi-probe testing technology in the 18 to 50 GHz frequency band. Developing this product was a real challenge for our engineers, to ensure rapidity, accuracy and dynamic range, as well as the mechanical stability in this frequency band.
How is the company planning for the next era of growth?
Our group has observed continuous growth for 21 years now, and it seems the challenge to maintain this will intensify as we face more and new demands. We expect significant growth in 2017 and look forward to the next five years surprising us with opportunities for growth, considering how the paradigm of our market is currently changing; in the past, OTA tests were limited to a niche market, and conducted tests addressed a much bigger market. The future will differ considerably as OTA testing will drastically increase its footprint!
What are your personal aims for MVG over the next five years?
My personal aim consists of building and ensuring an industrial story, either alone or with other groups that share this objective. I aim to realize my dream of giving to future engineers modern tools for measuring antennas with innovative software, to make them more competitive. The world of tomorrow will not be one of point-to-point measurement but of multi-point to multi-point measurement. They will need to optimize a complete communications system active in a real environment, as opposed to subparts in a measured lab environment. MVG will provide the technology to emulate real environments by playing out the electromagnetic scenarios, with the capacity to analyze these future technologies.