The continuing drive to improve the Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) of electronics becomes challenging with consumer-off-the-shelf (COTS) lumped element components since the designers are limited by the physical size of packaged components and limitations of assembly processes. Moreover, as spectrum congestion forces new systems to move higher in frequency, the performance of radio frequency (RF) circuits is impacted more by parasitics resulting from device packaging, printed circuit board (PCB) traces and component pads, and variations in component placements. One way to address these issues is to develop a custom Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuits (MMICs).
MMICs inherently reduce the size and weight portions of the SWaP equation for a module because multiple circuit components are pulled into a single device which reduces the PCB real estate needed for the entire circuit. Reducing the PCB real estate means that the volume of the module’s packaging can be reduced which also realizes a reduction in the weight of the module.
In addition to improving size and weight factors of SWaP, MMICs can also improve performance of high frequency circuits by limiting the losses compared to circuits implemented in discrete components. As mentioned in the introduction, higher frequency circuits are negatively impacted by losses due to PCB materials, component packaging, and variations in component placement due to manufacturing. By integrating all of the circuit components, see Figure 1, many of these losses can be minimized. Lower losses equate to improved power performance.
Figure 1: NuWaves’ Integrated Circuit
While improving SWaP or circuit performance are two reasons to create a custom MMIC, these devices also allow the designer an additional degree of freedom by allowing functionality to be designed that may not be realizable with current COTS components.
Figure 2 shows NuWaves miniature C-band Power Amplifier (PA) module. The small size of this PA module was only achievable due to the new MMICs developed for this application. If you have a project that requires the high performance and low SWaP characteristics that only a custom MMIC can offer, check out our experience designing custom MMICs for a variety of customers and applications.