Executive Interview: Michael Maslana, RFE founder and CEO, and Mike England, president and CTO
How did RFE become RFE?
Michael Maslana (MM): We are the result of a management acquisition in 2014 of the former Spinnaker Microwave. Since our formation, we have worked in purposeful anonymity updating our entire product line. Recently we launched our website and engaged Microwave Journal to introduce RFE.
What products and markets are you focusing on?
MM: Our expertise and focus lie primarily in converters and synthesizers spanning frequencies ranging from 0.5 to 80 GHz. We also provide support to legacy products such as voltage-controlled oscillators (VCO), as well as offering manufacturing services where we have expertise — chip and wire assembly, for example.
While our market historically has been predominately military, we also serve and actively seek to identify and grow commercial applications, namely automotive and industrial controls.
Will you offer a broad catalog of products or seek customers looking for custom solutions — or some of both?
MM: Both. We bill ourselves as an original design manufacturer (ODM).
We promote an array of products to attract customers to our technical experience and acumen. The nature of our engagements demands the capabilities and flexibility to customize to achieve our customers’ specifications and meet their performance requirements.
What’s your geographic coverage, and how are you structuring your sales channel to reach potential customers?
MM: We sell direct in the U.S., employing a network of regional manufacturer’s representative firms. Their technical understanding, complementary supplier line-cards and deep, long-standing relationships with the tier one defense contractors are critical to our success.
Internationally, we engage resellers whose experience with export regulations is invaluable.
What trends in defense and commercial systems are creating your best opportunities?
MM: Frankly, the increase in the U.S. defense budget coupled with the ongoing advances in electronic warfare (EW) systems forecast tremendous growth in this sector.
As for commercial, we see exciting needs for RF/microwave innovation in automotive technology and the expansion of the internet.
In the crowded field of companies supplying similar products, what differentiates RFE?
MM: We are nimble. This makes RFE attractive from several vantages:
Unlike our larger competitors, we respond quickly and deliver custom, high-value design solutions at very attractive rates. We also provide products from a unique technical platform, which separates RFE from the pack.
Delving more into your capabilities, tell us about your technology, manufacturing and supply chain.
Mike England (ME): We have a fully equipped thin film manufacturing lab, where we build our chip and wire products. We have eutectic die attach, epoxy die attach, gold ball bonding and gap welding capabilities. We also have solder capabilities to build PC board (PCB) type products, as needed.
Our test lab consists of all the equipment necessary to test products up to 40 GHz.
Our VCO products are all designed using chip and wire technology. Our VCOs are designed with bipolar transistors and silicon hyperabrupt varactors to give linear frequency tuning and the best overall phase noise.
Our synthesizer and converter products use both chip and wire and PCB technology. We use surface-mount components as our first design choice, as this gives the most component choices.
We buy COTS wherever possible.
During the past decade, we’ve seen the evolution of silicon mixed-signal and processing technologies convert many historic RF and analog functions to digital and software. How has this progression changed the architectures and capabilities of your products?
ME: We use digital components and software to control our synthesizer products. As an example, we use FPGAs to control the power output of all our synthesizers. This allows us to get better power flatness than we could with normal RF/microwave designs.
As we continue to design new products, we will take advantage of digital and software techniques.
Describe your backgrounds and experience.
MM: I have 30 years with diverse entrepreneurial endeavors. Among the businesses I have founded, acquired, led and sold are sales representative, project management, electronic manufacturing services and original design and equipment manufacturers for products ranging from automotive to RF/microwave.
ME: I have 30 years in the RF/microwave field, starting my career as a VCO design engineer with Avantek. I continued as a design engineer with Radian Technology, REMEC Magnum and then Cougar Components.
When Cougar Components was bought by Teledyne Technologies, I became general manager of Teledyne Cougar. My most recent position before joining forces at RFE was general manager of Teledyne Microwave Solutions.
From your “past lives” at other companies, what lessons did you learn that shape your philosophy leading RFE?
- Treat others as you wish to be treated.
- Trust and delegate to your team.
- People are generous with their knowledge when asked.
- Have a plan, but be flexible to seize upon opportunities.
- Treat customers as a partner in the development of the products they wish to buy from you.
- Be flexible and quick to respond to customer needs.
- Develop a team of people you can trust to do what they say they will do.
For more information about RFE's capabilities, visit their website.