Executive Interview: Hajime Yokota, President, and Shigetoshi Yokota, Chief Engineer, at Exceed Microwave
What’s the elevator speech describing Exceed Microwave’s products and markets?
Do you have a hard time finding suppliers that can meet your needs? Exceed Microwave designs and manufactures custom waveguide and coaxial RF/microwave filters with features that cannot be matched by other competing products.
We have provided large primes and government agencies with unique high performance components and assemblies. The engineers at Exceed Microwave are always excited to see challenging specifications and are always pushing the limits of physics. Send us your specs to work directly with our engineers.
What are the trends in your markets that are providing opportunities for growth?
Hajime Yokota (HY): We are seeing more requirements for waveguide filters that cannot be satisfied with the typical designs being used. Some customers are looking for really compact size, even half the length of typical waveguide filters, or really high power, where breakdown becomes an issue. We’re also noticing that more customers need flatter group delay or lower peak-to-peak phase distortion values for their systems, and Exceed Microwave’s phase equalizer is the perfect solution for it.
Shigetoshi Yokota (SY): Our original product line started with cavity filters and diplexers. The customers, who were impressed with our performance, requested us to produce other products, such as couplers, compact power combiners, phase equalizers, miniature baluns and microstrip filters.
Are you planning to develop a line of catalog products or focus on products designed to a specific customer’s needs?
HY: We’re not going to make an off-the-shelf type of catalog, but we have standardized our key components so that customers can understand the features of our products. We advertise our specialized products but are definitely not limited to those and have many design options that we can use to fit customers’ needs. It would be easiest for the customer to provide us with the specification, and we’ll offer the optimum solution.
You have a fairly traditional portfolio of products: filters, switches, circulators and isolators. What differentiates your products from your competitors’ — in some cases companies that are bigger and have been in business longer than Exceed?
HY: If you look at us from far away, yes, we provide traditional products. The main differentiators compared to our competitors are the WZ and WC series filters and phase equalizers.
WZ series filters have super low insertion loss and handle higher power than any other waveguide filter, and the WC series filters are much more compact than traditional filters, with unique electrical performance. In some cases, where traditional bandpass filters require additional lowpass filters, our WC series filters eliminate the need for them.
Many — most — customers have commented on how happy they are with Exceed Microwave’s response time to their needs, and we think that is a very important differentiator.
SY: Majorities of our competitors are specialized in only narrow component product lines. Our advantage is that we are capable of the optimization of total assemblies containing varieties of products all together, based on our broad microwave/RF knowledge.
What is your manufacturing strategy, and how does it contribute to the value you provide customers?
HY: We work with various machine shops across the country, and each shop has its strengths. We outsource to the proper shop, depending on what is critical, such as schedule, cost, type of material, etc. Machine shops are crucial to our business, so we’re always looking for new suppliers.
Discuss your sales channel and the best way for customers to work with you. Do you have sales representatives or a distribution channel?
HY: We just started working with HASCO, Inc. as our distributor, so more of our standard products in stock will be available through them. We have sales representatives, but the easiest way is to contact us directly, and we’ll include the appropriate sales rep.
Although your products are “traditional,” designing for high performance and high yields is no doubt challenging. How effective are simulation tools in nailing a design, versus an iterative process of build, measure, tune, build again?
HY: Proper product design is extremely important for high power applications, as well as high volume production, to reduce the amount of tuning the component requires. Tuning can degrade the power handling threshold, and too much tuning time can affect schedule and cost.
We use ANSYS HFSS to design every component and have made K-Band waveguide filters with no tuning required.
We always make prototypes to test and validate both the electrical and mechanical designs, but our intention for the prototype isn’t for it to be part of an iterative process. That being said, there are limitations of simulation tools, as well as the computer hardware it’s being used on, so the accuracy may not be good enough, not enough RAM or just takes too long. In rare cases, we will go through iterative build and tuning.
Small companies have the advantage of being focused, quick and nimble. Yet they often “scare” large companies, not wanting to risk a significant program on a small company with an unproven track record and unknown ability to scale with growth. How do you address that concern?
HY: It’s always hard trying to get the trust of new customers when they’ve never heard of us, so we engage them proactively and show we’ll do everything we can for them.
A lot of times, HFSS simulations aren’t enough to convince them, so if cost and schedule makes sense, we’ll make a prototype and show them the hardware with measured data. We have a lot of different products at different frequencies, so we’ll be able to show actual data of something similar to what they may need.
Tell us about your backgrounds and what led you to your present roles.
SY: My academic background is a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. My research was numerical computation of electromagnetic scattering, through which I learned fundamental physics and mathematics. I had a strong desire to apply my theoretical understanding in physics to produce innovative microwave/RF hardware.
My first employer was Transco Products, which was always very aggressive in challenging the technical limits. During the cold war, customers did not compromise with the existing technology. They continuously required us to design and produce something better than yesterday. As I kept solving very stringent problems every day, I was told that I was ranked technically number one in the United States under the high power microwave category. (There was a huge table of engineers and scientists, created by the U.S. military forces, to rank them during the Cold War.)
After several years of running my own company, I worked for Boeing Satellite Systems, where I designed and analyzed varieties of components and subsystems for space application.
At COMDEV USA, as a chief technologist, I was responsible for technical proposal writing, R&D and designing high power cavity filters and diplexers. By “designing,” I mean the selection of the optimum approach for insertion loss, frequency selectivity, return loss, compact size, voltage breakdown and manufacturability.
Currently, I enjoy solving and designing technically very stringent passive components, nearly any passive component.
HY: I started at Boeing Satellite Systems designing cavity and planar filters, as well as MMIC amplifiers and subsystems.
At COMDEV USA and Teledyne, I designed low insertion loss, high power coaxial and waveguide filters for a number of satellite systems, and with some of them, I assembled, tuned and tested the flight units myself. COMDEV let me try new roles, which allowed me to get into project management and proposal activities.
We take great pride in producing products that help our customers, and I enjoy the entire process of the lifecycle of the product, from marketing all the way to shipping and verifying with the customer that they are happy with what they received.
More information about Exceed Microwave’s products and capabilities is available on the company’s website: www.exceedmicrowave.com