Microwave Journal

Executive Interview: Duncan Smith, President, Norden Millimeter

March 15, 2023

1. For our readers who are unfamiliar with Norden Millimeter, can you describe the company?

Norden Millimeter Inc. is a privately held company that was founded in 2001. It has around 100 employees and is headquartered in Placerville, California. The company specializes in the design and manufacture of complex frequency converters for military markets.

One of the unique aspects of Norden is its employee ownership model. A high percentage of the employees are stock owners in the company, which helps to create a sense of ownership and pride in the work they do. This also means that the employees have a direct financial stake in the success of the company.

Norden has never taken on outside investors, which has allowed us to remain focused on our core business and maintain control over our operations. This independence has also allowed Norden to focus on long-term goals, rather than being pressured to deliver short-term results to satisfy investors.

Norden is known for its ability to work closely with customers during the design phase to ensure that our products work seamlessly in their systems. This collaborative approach has helped Norden to build a strong reputation for delivering high-quality and reliable products that meet the specific needs of its customers.

Overall, Norden Millimeter's focus on employee ownership, independence, and customer collaboration has helped it to become a respected and successful company in the military frequency converter market.

2.  Can you tell us a bit about your product development and manufacturing process? What device technologies do you use most often? Are all the RF functions designed internally? What assembly methods do you use?

Norden's product development process is a little different in that the engineering team does not have dedicated staff to build prototype hardware. All new hardware is built in manufacturing. This approach provides instant feedback on producibility and improvement opportunities, which improve the development process.

Norden manufactures most of its products from reusable sub-assemblies, which leads to large reuse content in designs, making the design process more efficient. Additionally, designing most of the RF functions in-house gives us more control over the development process.

Norden uses mostly chip and wire manufacturing processes including a large variety of MMICs in designs, combined with custom-designed filters printed on alumina. Norden's modular sub-assembly approach allows for new designs to be easily altered in production to fine-tune performance.

Lastly, we often include a solder surface mount PWB to provide DC regulation, logic control, unit command and PLL LO generation to easily improve the overall performance and functionality of the products.

3. Can you give us an overview of your product portfolio and a few examples of new products that excite you?

Norden Millimeter is a company that specializes in the design and manufacture of frequency converters and single-function modules for a wide range of applications. Our product portfolio includes:

  • Up-converters: Norden's upconverters are designed to take a lower frequency signal and convert it to a higher frequency signal. The company offers upconverters with output frequencies ranging from 1 to 18 GHz, 6 to 12 GHz, 30 to 40 GHz and 18 to 40 GHz.
  • Down-converters: Norden's downconverters are designed to take a higher frequency signal and convert it to a lower frequency signal. The company offers downconverters in the bands 1 to 18 GHz, 10 to 12 GHz, 19 to 21 GHz, 18 to 40 GHz, 26 to 40 GHz, 50 to 75 GHz and 75 to 110 GHz.
  • Transceivers: Norden offers a couple of different 2 to 18 GHz transceivers. These transceivers are designed to transmit and receive signals in the frequency range of 2 to 18 GHz.
  • Frequency Multipliers: Norden offers frequency multipliers that are designed to take an input signal and produce an output signal that is a multiple of the input frequency. These frequency multipliers are available in a range of frequencies up through 110 GHz.
  • Amplifiers: Norden offers amplifiers that are designed to amplify the power of an input signal. These amplifiers are available in a range of frequencies and power levels.

One new product that is currently in development is a 2 to 18 GHz transceiver built entirely on multi-layer PWB. Norden has created a design center in Reno, Nev., specializing in microwave PWB design. This will be their first product.

Overall, Norden's product portfolio includes a wide range of frequency converters and single-function modules that can be used in a variety of applications, including aerospace, defense, telecommunications and more.

4. What is your mix of standard versus custom products? How do you see this changing for Norden Millimeter in the future?

Norden primarily produces custom products that are tailored to the specific needs and requirements of each individual customer. However, the company does create standard products when multiple customers request the same product functionality.

We do not anticipate a change in this approach of producing mostly custom products and standard products when there is demand for them.

5. Norden Millimeter was founded in 2001, how have you seen your target markets and product portfolio change in those 20+ years?

Norden's target markets have shifted from a balance of commercial and military jobs to a greater focus on military jobs over the years. This shift has been particularly noticeable during the COVID years when demand for commercial products decreased significantly.

In addition to changes in target markets, Norden's product portfolio has also evolved over the years. The company has moved from supplying single-function and simple frequency converters to more complex frequency converters and complex systems. Norden has recently started building aircraft line replaceable converter systems (LRUs).

6. How much has the pandemic and supply chain shortages affected your company and how have you dealt with those issues?

Norden has taken several proactive steps to address the supply chain shortages caused by the COVID pandemic. By purchasing parts at the time of order or during the design process, we can ensure that the necessary components will be available when the product is ready for delivery. We have also implemented an anti-counterfeit brokered part program to allow us to gain access to parts that are not available through normal channels, while still complying with government regulations.

In this supply chain environment, we must carefully examine each product order for part availability and make any necessary adjustments to the design or incorporate brokered parts as needed. This ensures that Norden can continue to meet customer demand despite the ongoing supply chain challenges.

7. Norden Millimeter is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California and is part of the large technology base that is the continuing expansion of Silicon Valley. Have you found that to be a help or a hindrance in attracting and retaining people?

Norden Millimeter is a technology company located in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California. Despite being in a rural area, Norden has been successful in attracting and retaining key talent due to the positive aspects of the region. The Sierra foothills are known for their natural beauty and recreational opportunities, including snow skiing, wine tasting, boating, hiking and more. Additionally, the lack of heavy traffic in the area is also a draw for many people.

However, as Norden has grown and expanded, the location has become more of a neutral factor in attracting talent. This is likely due to the increasing demand for jobs in the technology sector and the availability of similar opportunities in urban areas.