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Microwave Frequencies Importance in High Speed Digital Applications

Though once decidedly analog, the world of modern-day business, as well as various important aspects of the public sector, now both rely largely on high speed digital systems. Communications is the most obvious area where this has made a difference, but that field connects to just about every other - from satellites for commercial broadband internet to missile guidance in defense applications - so anything vital to it is, more or less, vital to the whole world.

Radio frequency and microwave technologies carry major weight, and need optimal performance from every part that powers them. This includes circuits, interconnects and numerous other microelectronic components. AMETEK ECP manufactures many of these leading edge parts. Today, we'll take a closer look at the specific applications of RF and microwave systems, how the right circuits are necessary for them to function and other factors to consider.

The need to catch up with the market

Anyone who paid even fleeting attention to technology's path over the past decade or so should be well aware of how fast transformations happened, across multiple verticals - smartphones and consumer tech, server technologies, microprocessors and so on. In more than a few cases, products ended up being developed before the underlying tech infrastructure or complementary tools necessary for their optimal function had been finished. This led to many instances where businesses of all kinds experienced capabilities gaps between certain portions of their IT ecosystems, with legacy hardware and high-echelon software, or vice versa (or something else along those lines). Signal integrity can be at risk in such situations, given that digital communications often require frequency bandwidth in the billions of cycles per second.

The public sector arguably experienced this more than anything else and in some cases still is, as some U.S. federal agencies are still using products dating back to the 1990s or even 1980s. With specific regard to the increasing power of digital communications, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology began its high-speed electronics program in 2009 to develop improved microwave metrology for microelectronics, but non-military government tech still isn't fully up to speed across the board. Measures such as the Modernizing Government Technology Act, signed into American law in December 2017, may expedite this process, according to FedScoop, but there are no guarantees of that.

RF/Microwave's role in PCBs

As noted by Isola, RF and microwave technologies and printed circuit boards are essential for each other's performance. This is particularly true in both the commercial and defense portions of the aerospace sector - in fact, the need for microwave and millimeter-wave PCBs began in those verticals. The tech soon spread to the strictly commercial market, though, and it often plays a part in ensuring the proper function of vital consumer products such as advanced automotive safety systems.

The margin for error in RF/microwave PCBs is practically nonexistent, because there can be little to no loss even in cases where signals are weak - as they may quickly become in high-performance aerospace and defense applications.


Essential electrical properties

Certain aspects of physics apply when determining the creation of microwave-frequency PCBs for digital signals. According to Epec, dissipation factor, dielectric constant, thermal conductivity, thermal coefficient of dielectric constant and coefficient of thermal expansion are all notably important. Additionally, it's critical for both the dielectric constant and dissipation factor to maintain their consistency over even the highest-frequency bandwidths - like 40-60 GHz and beyond - so that signals aren't interrupted and don't become distorted or fade in and out.

Significant risks can also result with any notable fluctuations in the transmission of electricity through a PCB, its related microelectronic components and the signal-producing apparatus these parts accompany, be it a satellite dish or a high-frequency antenna. Reduction in power almost invariably leads to a drop in signal strength, and in areas such as reconnaissance, defense or emergency public broadcasts that use RF/microwave for digital communications, even a split-second decline in signal, power or both can endanger operations in ways that put lives at risk, which is simply unacceptable. Heat loss can similarly interrupt high-frequency signals, which is why thermal conductivity and expansion matter so much in microwave PCBs.

AMETEK's contributions to better RF/microwave technologies

For decades, AMETEK ECP, Coining, Aegis and our other affiliate businesses have produced components that keep up with the evolving power of communications. The products we make for the RF/microwave application vertical exemplify that level of quality. We offer push-on RF connectors for multiple bandwidth strengths: The SMP, SMPM and SMPS models can tackle maximum frequencies of 25, 40 and 65 GHz, respectively. Our engineers and technicians can customize connectors for various pin extension, termination and length requirements clients may have.  Our highly innovative, patented S-Bend technology is used in some of the most demanding modern applications today.

Other AMETEK products that can withstand the demands of high-frequency digital communications include solder wire and metal micro
stamping from Coining, as well as our flagship solder preforms. All of these parts exemplify the ingenuity and attention to detail that has made AMETEK ECP a leader in the microelectronics and preforms industries.



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