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Innovation: The Answer to a Flat Market

Innovation: The Answer to a Flat Market
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by Harvey Kaylie, Founder and CEO Mini-Circuits

Some might say business seems flat lately.  The financial crisis in Greece has led to economic turmoil in the EU.  Opportunities in China have slowed, and when China sneezes, the whole world feels it.  Telecom companies have reduced purchasing.  Defense programs are stagnant due to sequestration.  In conditions like these, you can either wait it out until the next uptick — or you can apply creativity, resources and dynamic drive to do something about it.  Mini-Circuits has chosen to do something about it by focusing on the benefits of new technologies and implementing a strategy for innovation.

Here’s one example.  Since I’ve been in the industry, filters have always presented an issue when used following a mixer due to reflections of out-of-band signals back into the mixer.  This creates a number of problems such as intermods and gain ripples which negatively affect system performance.  So Mini-Circuits has leveraged our resources to present a revolutionary new reflectionless filter topology that absorbs those out-of-band signals rather than reflects them back to the source.  We’re able to manufacture these new filters on GaAs in tiny 3x3mm QFN packages, making them practical to integrate into a wide range of systems.  We believe reflectionless filter technology will solve a lot of problems for customers and create many new opportunities.

Our MMIC product line is an area where we’re constantly innovating.  We continue to advance our product line in both active and passive designs.  On the active side, we’re expanding dynamic range and reducing noise figures in our MMIC amplifiers, while also focusing on ever wider frequency ranges so models deliver outstanding performance for many applications.  One of our newest LNAs (PMA3-83LN+) achieves 1.3 dB noise figure over the entire 0.5 to 8 GHz range with one simple matching circuit.  We’re also developing PHEMT LNAs that expand the coverage of our line below 10 MHz down to the HF range.  On the passive side, we’ve developed MMIC splitters using IPD process technology that cover 2 to 26.5 GHz in a 4 x 4mm package.  This is by far the widest frequency coverage in a splitter this small in the industry.

Here’s another example.  In production burn-in test systems, throughput is limited by how many devices can be tested in parallel.  To respond to this problem, Mini-Circuits developed a very high power instrument amplifier that delivers 100W output power over 700 to 2700 MHz (HPA-272+).  We also developed a companion 100W 10-way splitter module (ZT-10HPS-272+) which we’re very proud of because of its minimal insertion loss, excellent isolation and VSWR performance.  This amplifier and splitter combination allows a high power signal to be distributed into many parallel test channels and has enabled significant improvement of high-throughput burn-in test systems by supporting many more DUTs in a temperature chamber at one time.

Another innovation that improves test capabilities is a directional coupler (ZHDC-series) that provides directivity up to 33 dB over 50 to 6000 MHz, allowing a low cost alternative method for scalar return loss measurements.  Network analyzer equipment is one of the heaviest costs for test operations, but in many cases these systems come with features and capabilities well beyond the customer’s needs for a given application.  The basic building blocks of reflectometry measurements inside any VNA or SNA are a signal source, a detector and a high-directivity directional bridge, so by developing a suitable directional bridge, we’ve enabled users to perform these measurements accurately with a low cost alternative setup using a Mini-Circuits USB/Ethernet synthesized signal generator and power sensor.  This increases test throughput while reducing the amount of expensive capital deployed on the production floor.

Some innovations may not come in the form of a new product, but in a significant improvement of an existing product.  Mini-Circuits’ mechanical switches have been popular for a long time because of their low insertion loss, high isolation, DC to 18 GHz coverage, exceptional reliability and extremely long switching life.  When power was removed from these devices, however, the switch would disconnect from all ports.  We found some applications that required the switch to remain in the same position when power was removed, so we incorporated a latching function which maintains switch position when power is removed from the switch.

Innovation even extends beyond products into the ways we provide ever greater levels of service and value to our customers.  We’ve developed a new mobile app for Android and Apple devices that designers can use to quickly and easily compute common RF calculations and conversions.  We’re also upgrading our Yoni® search engine to include additional search parameters.  Yoni is the only parametric search engine that finds products that meet requirements based on real performance data within the frequency range the user specifies.  By adding more search parameters, we’re allowing customers to fine tune their search even more to find components that meet their requirements.

Some of these innovations expand our application base through new products and capabilities, while some provide more usefulness to products we already offer.  Others create greater value by adding utility and convenience to customers’ experience doing business with us.  In all cases, these are changes that enhance the value we offer customers.  Mini-Circuits is obsessively focused on continuously innovating to offer customers more value — it’s our mantra.  As long as we keep innovating and finding new ways to give customers more capabilities, world-class quality and outstanding service, there will always be new opportunities.

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