The RF and microwave industry faced challenges last year due to the demand for smaller products and higher levels of functional integration. This led to a need for companies to reevaluate their manufacturing techniques. For Times Microwave Systems, it presented an opportunity to invest in new equipment and strategies to meet these changing requirements.
by Dave Slack, Director of Engineering, Times Microwave Systems
The trend toward high-density smaller devices that operate at higher frequencies has continued to advance throughout the first half of 2023. In fact, components have become so small that they are being integrated into hybrid architectures that combine multiple functions previously performed by discrete devices in a single device and connect them via interconnects. It allows manufacturers to reduce their products’ size and complexity while maintaining or improving their performance.
The interconnect industry is also adopting the approach, exemplified by bundled cables, multi-port connectors, and integrated sensors and connectors. These integrated solutions help simplify the interconnect process, and as technology continues to evolve, even more innovative interconnect solutions will emerge.
5G In the Driver’s Seat
5G is leading the way in communications product development and has advanced to the point where millimeter wave deployment on a wide scale is possible, bringing with it the shorter wavelengths that equate to smaller components, tighter tolerances, and greater attention to detail.
While the defense industry was, for more than five decades, the driving force behind RF and microwave development, it’s now been partially replaced by the rapid growth of the wireless industry, where advances are achieved at a record pace. Consequently, commercial off-the-shelf 5G components and technologies are now driving military developments. And as the military has adopted an open architecture for new system designs, they can exploit the advantages of commercial 5G technology.
5G technology further provides higher accuracy and precision targeting for sensors—such as radars with much better target resolution and definition—and phased array antennas in commercial applications. For example, active electronically steered antenna arrays (AESAs) have become a valuable part of the 5G hardware toolbox (although they were initially created for defense systems).
They allow virtually instantaneous adjustments to an antenna’s direction and gain characteristics. AESAs rely on accurately controlling phase relationships between elements of the antenna arrays, so using high-quality components that are entirely phase-stable is necessary for AESAs and other phase-sensitive hardware. This requirement applies equally to interconnect hardware such as cables and connectors.
Finally, with the growth in millimeter wave products and components and new hybrid architectures, test and measurement hardware is more critical than ever. It must keep pace with the hardware it is meant to evaluate and work at higher frequencies without decreases in performance while also becoming smaller. Test and measurement equipment should also be able to maintain metrology-grade performance after hundreds of mating cycles and thousands of flex and temperature cycles. Times Microwave Systems has also addressed changing needs for extreme environments by expanding its high-temperature solutions to include 300° C and even 400° C options.
The needs of this volatile environment have also spurred Times Microwave Systems to grow vertically by establishing manufacturing sites and operations close to customers in the U.S. and abroad. This expansion allows the company to be more responsive to customer needs, develop new opportunities, and maintain the agility and innovative spirit of an entrepreneurial company while also benefiting from the resources of a larger enterprise.
In summary, 2022 was a year of challenges and innovation, with smaller products and higher-density form factors driving the need for more innovative RF interconnect solutions. Looking ahead to the remainder of this year and beyond, we expect continued expansion of 5G millimeter-wave technology to drive growth in high-density integrated components.