by Chris Dugan, President, Knowles Precision Devices
MPD: Please describe what you consider to be your company’s most significant technological achievements in 2023.
There have beeen multiple noteworthy achievements. At Knowles Precision Devices, we’re always working to enhance our in-house ceramics capabilities because we know our defense customers really benefit from innovation in materials science. This year, we continued to grow our stable of in-house ceramics. We also developed our offerings in tunable filter technology by acquiring a compact YIG technology. We can now supply high-performance associated with YIG in a substantially smaller footprint.
We also acquired Cornell Dubilier, a film and electrolytic capacitor company. Typically, these technologies are associated with power electronics, but we see them playing a key role in supporting RF and microwave applications, especially those requiring pulse energy storage, like radar. For example, pulse energy storage in radar often requires higher capacitance than ceramic capacitors can typically offer. Depending on system specifications, aluminum capacitors might be a better option, and we can provide that now.
MPD: What does the Department of Defense need most from the microwave industry?
A few things come to mind. There are plenty of lessons learned from the last few years, and it’s clear that a fully onshore supply chain is critically important. As a vertically integrated supplier, from ceramic formulation upwards, we’re proud to be able to offer that. Along the same lines, we need to embrace flexibility. Suppliers need to be able to do more than one-size-fits-all. Components and technologies need to be flexible by design. A prime example of that is our tunable filter offerings.
From a design perspective, DoD, like many other sectors, is turning to the digital domain as a space to innovate. For example, modern radars are being built as multi-mission systems, where their characteristics change in a moment’s notice. That’s accomplished digitally. We know that a fully digital array is subject to everything in its environment. There’s no spatial filtering to fall back on to prevent damage caused by factors like noise. Very special filters are needed to prevent this kind of damage. In RF and microwave applications, our solutions need to protect the digital receiver while fitting into a small form factor alongside a fully digital array.
MPD: An increasing number of applications rely on RF and microwave technology. What application is most likely to significantly contribute to the industry by the end of the decade?
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has been a revelation to the U.S. and NATO allies with respect to the agility needed to engage in, and counter, electronic warfare. That is going to lead to a need for more field deployable, adaptable EW systems, which in our case means more demand for lightweight, small-form factor RF filters and, potentially, tunable filters. The value of guidable warheads versus “dumb munitions” is also evident, which should lead to demand for guidable delivery systems.
The ongoing development of hypersonic missile technology will require advancements in radar that allow threat detection at extreme ranges, so I’m expecting to see that. I’m also interested in the interplay between commercial telecommunications and DoD applications as their operational frequencies overlap. One ecosystem will enable the other, just as we saw innovation to support Ka-band satellite communications enabling 5G FR2 technology.
As a specialty components manufacturer, we’re prepared for the complex challenges that accompany high-reliability, high-temperature, and high-frequency applications. Knowles Precision Devices delivers MIL-qualified solutions from the VHF to Ka-band, and we’re committed to helping our customers optimize for SWaP-C. With catalog, build-to-print, and custom design capabilities, we’re ready to support the growing number of innovations that rely on excellence in RF and microwave.