Jeb Flemming, CTO, 3D Glass Solutions Inc.
MPD: Millimeter wave frequencies will be used for cellular communications for the first time in 5G. What challenges and opportunities does this present for the microwave industry?
One of the biggest challenges for the telecommunications industry is the need to transition from large mmWave devices with high cost and high performance to much smaller mmWave devices with low cost and high performance devices for the 5G market. Legacy manufacturing technologies for mmWave frequencies do not have the manufacturing precision, repeatability, and scale needed for the higher volumes and price points required for consumer 5G applications. This puts tremendous pressure on businesses to come up with new materials, new manufacturing techniques, and new architectures for 5G where the first movers that develop and/or adopt the advancements will achieve a dominant position in the wireless communication market.
In addition to this, legacy mmWave manufacturing and integration approaches are not amenable for the 5G market as they intrinsically have high degrees of variability in manufacturing which require a significant amount of post-manufacturing subsystem-level tuning to produce a qualified product. This is simply not economical at the volumes projected for 5G.
Solving these two challenges is at the heart of what 3D Glass Solutions has developed. Our unique material coupled with our advanced manufacturing methods provides the highest levels of systems integration with the lowest loss on the market today in a small, compact footprint. Our technology enables the production of a wide variety of discrete devices, subsystems, and system-in-package products using a proven cost-effective and high-volume manufacturing process.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies do you feel will have the greatest impact in our industry overall between now and 2020?
I believe that the development of design toolsets that accurately translate to the performance of manufactured devices without manual trimming or modification in the mmWave space will have a tremendous impact on the mmWave industry for the next several years by significantly reducing design and product development cycles. We have seen great maturity of simulation software in their ability to accurately simulate mmWave and RF device performance, but what the industry needs now are integrated toolsets within these design and simulation environments to quickly develop products.
Since our material and 3D structures are unique to the market, standard simulation methodologies cannot be practically used. During 2017 we have worked hard on developing models for our integrated passive devices (IPD) to help our customers effectively design with our process. In addition, 3D Glass Solutions is aggressively developing a Product Development Kit (PDK) specifically for mmWave frequencies. Our PDK combines basic IP building blocks, component architectures, and devices with a sophisticated Design Rule Checker (DRC) that is supported by proven manufacturing tolerances. Our PDK reduces device design, simulation, and optimization cycle times from 3-4 weeks to 3-4 days.
MPD: After years of hype and little to show for it, IoT networks are actually being deployed in a variety of applications. Do you believe IoT is a major opportunity for the RF and microwave industry? If so, why and if not, why not?
I believe the roadblocks for IoT regarding performance (low power, transmission range, etc.) have been largely removed and we will continue to see a broader, more thoughtful rollout of IoT devices and networks. That said, one should not expect inexpensive commodity products to adopt these IoT communication chip sets yet as cost will limit their broad adoption today. I believe that hype around IoT will continue to outpace market adoption until technology’s cost catches up with expectations.
3D Glass Solutions is poised to capture various parts of this market with the use of our 3D IPD topology. Limiting the loss from interconnects and surface mount soldering will enable our IoT customers to conserve battery life by drawing less current through their system. In addition to battery life, 3D Glass Solutions can offer a smaller footprint than typical PCB circuits by using our glass for both IPDs and adding active surface mount devices to reduce the overall size of the circuit. Our through glass vias allow top and bottom interconnects and population of devices on either side of the board. In addition to RF as it pertains to IOT, 3D Glass Solutions has manufactured unique structures for sensors that integrate with other active electronics. We are positioned to grow with the IOT market and expect to be a big player in this space.
MPD: We believe that the defense industry will retain its crucial importance to the RF and microwave industry regardless of overall DoD budget constraints. Do you agree with this statement? Either way, please explain your reasoning.
As in the early days of the integrated circuit and semiconductor market, the DoD plays a key role as early adopter and technology driver creating market demand. Even with today’s budgetary constraints I believe the DoD and other defense industry partners will continue to be a driving force for smaller, lower power RF and mmWave devices and systems. These agencies will provide the RF community with forward-looking projections of trends, integration schemes, and performance requirements of advanced products. This has been especially true, and will continue to be, for mmWave technologies, architectures, and integration schemes, such as Heterogeneous Integration.
Currently the race is on in the defense industry for the following: lower cost devices, smaller systems with less weight, and shorter manufacturing lead times for custom devices.
3D Glass Solutions is hitting on all cylinders when it comes to the above list. Our technology has proven itself to be smaller and integrating both IPDs and active devices to form a SiP (System in a Package) is gaining tremendous traction from both a performance and size/weight standpoint. 3D Glass Solutions has shown that our technology can withstand over 70,000 gravities in a shock test and survive, in addition to hundreds of thermal cycles with no change in performance. Design and lead times have come down in recent years as we have perfected the manufacturing process, which helps reduce the overall system cost for any customer application.