by Chris Dugan, President, Knowles Precision Devices
MPD: As RF/microwave system complexities grow across many industries (from smart cars to smart cities), what are the biggest challenges RF component vendors and system integrators should expect to face in the coming year?
Customer focus on SWaP-C will continue to drive vendors not only to make smaller, more capable components, but also to do some component-level integration for their end customers through integrated passive devices (IPDs) and integrated microwave assemblies (IMAs). An executive at a large military OEM recently told me that their number one engineering priority was developing design tools and a supply base to make system integration easier, cheaper, and more reliable.
I think this will be a challenge to many component providers. At Knowles Precision Devices, we have been investing in tools and partnerships to ensure we remain positioned to develop value-added solutions that address SWaP-C concerns while continuing to innovate on the high-performance discrete components we excel at delivering. In fact, we have already started down this path with our build-to-print and custom IPD solutions, delivering components such as switched filter banks, spiral inductors, and power dividers. And, with our unique combination of ceramic expertise, manufacturing know-how, product customization capabilities, and clever microwave and RF design engineering, we are already set up to offer this range of solutions. We have been closely watching the demand for IMAs evolve, and I predict we will have a presence in the IMA space very soon.
MPD: The commercial and defense satellite market is booming. Is your company reaping any revenue from this, or do you expect to?
Knowles Precision Devices has a long heritage of supplying high-reliability components for satellite and other space applications. It’s a difficult but rewarding market segment because the specifications and inspection criteria are severe, which can lead to low yields. But companies like Knowles Precision Devices, which can deliver reliable results for space customers, will reap more market share as this segment grows. This year, we acquired Integrated Microwave Corporation (IMC), a leader in the design and manufacture of custom RF filters and multiplexers with decades of experience supplying these components for mission-critical space applications. With our portfolio, we are incredibly well-positioned to take on the increasing demand for reliable space-ready components largely being driven by the commercial adoption of small satellites.
Our acquisition of IMC provides us a broad range of RF and microwave filtering solutions that support applications from the VHF to the Ka-band. In addition to our innovative components for mmWave devices operating in the Ka- and V-bands, we can now deliver ceramic and cavity filters for lower frequency and/or higher power applications. As a result of our comprehensive offering, companies assembling commercial or defense SATCOM systems can look to us to be their one-stop solution for their RF filtering and testing needs.
Our technology also supports the design and development trends we are seeing in the SATCOM industry as demand quickly escalates for satellites that can transfer more data at increasingly faster speeds. This includes a shift from traditional heterodyne architectures to a direct RF sampling approach; the move away from static, mechanically steered parabolic antennas to active phased array antennas; and the need for filters that avoid interference in tighter spaces as systems inherently need to be more compact. Finally, we also have the required testing capabilities across the RF spectrum to ensure our components meet the strict reliability requirements for space applications.