by Suja Ramnath, President and CEO, Integra Technologies
MPD: If you sell to the defense sector, what do you believe are the major challenges for RF and microwave technology in serving DoD's needs?
SR: The DoD is undergoing a comprehensive modernization of platforms across all branches, preparing for a future to support a wide range of threats. Next generation systems must be multifunctional, software configurable, and rapidly upgradable. In most cases they must support radio communications, radar and electronic warfare (EW) simultaneously. They must seamlessly connect and scale to process staggering amounts of voice, data and video, and provide operators with situational awareness necessary for rapid decision making. Size, weight, power and cost will all be critical enablers of these key assets as the expectation will be to do more while costing less to acquire and operate.
RF and microwave technology faces two major challenges. The first challenge is to accelerate the pace of innovation and stay ahead of power and bandwidth hungry system needs. Many of these new platforms will utilize gallium-nitride (GaN) devices for transmit and receive electronics to meet their demanding multi-mission frequency, bandwidth, dynamic range and power requirements. Efficient power in particular is a critical factor in all these systems. Integra Technologies has been innovating in this area for several decades and today our most advanced GaN/SiC products can deliver kilowatts of power with efficiencies >85%. In addition to improving system performance and extending range, these products also offer reduced operating lifetime costs, which is a key requirement for the DoD. Also, Integra Technologies has been pioneering R&D in the area of High Voltage (HV) GaN/SiC to further extend what mainstream GaN 50V technology can achieve by enabling very high-power densities on the order of 10W/mm for 100V CW operation and 20W/mm for 150V pulsed operation. With Integra's HV GaN/SiC, one component can replace several, eliminating both the complexity as well as losses of power combining structures, thereby reducing the overall size, weight, and cost of the system.
The second challenge for the RF and Microwave industry is to support the refurbishment needs of decades old systems where replacement components must meet backwards compatibility of performance, form, fit and function for technologies which have been long been discontinued or innovated beyond. As this industry consolidated over the last decade through various mergers and acquisitions, portfolio rationalizations led to many products being obsoleted and discontinued. Si Bipolar based products are an example of legacy technology that is seeing pressure from discontinuances and supply availability. As one of the last domestic suppliers of Si Bipolar technology, Integra is seeing an increase in requests from DoD and U.S. Primes looking for drop-in replacements for products that have been discontinued by other sources, most of which must be custom designed by Integra to be performance compatible. Multi-decade supply to support program ramp up as well as replacements is a critical need for the DoD and for this reason Integra does not discontinue products.
MPD: What RF and microwave technologies will have the greatest impact in the next few years?
SR: Gallium Nitride, RF silicon and software-controlled systems will have the greatest impact in the next few years. Having firmly established beachhead applications as mainstream technologies in the RF and Microwave markets, GaN and RF silicon are now aggressively proliferating to capture more and more market share. 5G, radar, and satellite communications will continue to be major driving forces pushing GaN higher in both in frequency and power. RF silicon continues to improve performance with every new generation and relentlessly pursues the digitization of traditional RF functions, resulting in lower cost radio integration for high volume commercial applications. These technologies will drive applications for years to come. Additionally, software-controlled systems like unmanned vehicles or AI driven systems will continue to proliferate.
MPD: Is your company having trouble in finding new microwave engineers?
SR: The RF & Microwave industry is seeing the pace of retirements from its long term engineering work orce accelerate. This exodus is creating an increase in demand for RF & Microwave engineers while at the same time the number of engineers seeking degrees related to our industry is declining. Companies are facing the daunting task of needing to backfill >20% of their engineering workforce in the coming few years. Integra is expanding our engineering team and face the industry wide challenge of finding talent. In addition to relying on traditional recruiting sources for seasoned talent, we are also focusing on recruiting candidates early in their career. Integra has stepped up our domestic and international partnering programs with technical high schools, community colleges and various universities to attract prime candidates. Equally as important, we have worked to create an environment focused on extending the tenure of our highly experienced late career engineers by providing the flexibility to create scenarios that allow them to remain in the organization longer. This allows us the ability to offer meaningful mentoring programs from late career experienced professionals to entry level engineers to accelerate their learning curve. The overall result is a world class technical team.