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Posts From October, 2013

Intelligent defence 

31 October 2013 12:41:00

Michelle Winny, Editor of Electronics visits the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2013 exhibition to find out about the latest in defence component technology and how the electronics industry is currently serving the critical demands of Mil/Aero applications

A single electronic component seems pretty innocuous on its own but put the right combination together and you could be looking at a lethal killing machine capable of mass destruction; or on the other side of the scale and more hopefully, serving to protect and defend. Of late, the reality of deployment in theatres of war such as Afghanistan and other areas of conflict have placed significant demands on technology companies and their capabilities to provide ‘the right’ solutions for these challenging applications.

Technological advancements have seen electronic components built into nearly every weapons system and piece of equipment. Whilst shrinking device geometries have enabled ever smaller and more integrateable electronics, finding their way onto infantry uniforms, into field equipment and armory vehicles. Examples of some of the latest in component technology being developed for these applications were showcased at the recent Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2013 exhibition in London. Solutions included a range of Mil/aero ‘D-Sub’ connectors and socket kits launched by component distributor, TTI. This range of connectors is the M24308, which are suited to military applications.  

The company has also recently made a significant increase to the size and scale of its European connector assembly service. The facility, at its European Distribution Centre near Munich is now twice the size and is capable of producing seven different connector styles and their many variants. The distributor has also recently expanded the product range it offers and can now also assemble connectors from Amphenol and Souriau. Continuing the offering of specialised connectors for Mil/Aero applications, Amphenol announced that its Black Zinc Nickel connector plating finish is now qualified to MIL-DTL-38999 Series III Class-Z. This is an RoHS compliant conductive and non-reflective black finish that is approved for 500 hours of salt spray endurance.

ITT Corporation showcased the latest customised connector, vibration isolation and shock absorber products from its Cannon, Enidine and KONI brands. Cannon’s Nemesis is a new series of connectors that have a smaller form factors and enhanced sealing technology, that offer maximum connectivity, durability and reliability. As a result this makes the devices well-suited for soldier-wearable and unmanned vehicle applications.

Frequency control specialist, Euroquartz showcased its range of high reliability crystal and oscillator products. The company also supplies markets where high reliability components are essential. These include crystals and oscillators for electronic systems used in satellites, civil and military aircraft and a broad range of ‘defence related’ equipment. The company’s EQXO-2000BM range of oscillators offers full MIL screening when required and provides frequencies from 30kHz to 70MHz with frequency stability of ±100ppm or ±50ppm over the full military temperature range.

Gaia Converter, a manufacturer of modular power components, released a new family of configurable integrated power supplies. The company’s GPACK device is able to deliver up to 800W without a fan in 24 – 28 VDC avionic, aerospace, military and missile applications. Diamond Microwave, a specialist in high performance microwave power amplifiers, announced the launch of ultra-compact high power solid state power amplifiers in the X-Band and Ku-Band, which are ideal for defence, aerospace and communications applications. The company advises, these solid-state power amplifiers are based on GaN devices, and offer state-of-the-art pulsed power performance coupled with a power-to-volume ratio. The designs are flexible in layout and architecture, and are fully customisable to meet individual specifications for electrical, mechanical and environmental parameters. Amplifiers with pulsed power outputs in excess of 1kW, and with multi-octave bandwidths, are also under development.

Link Microtek demonstrated its recently enhanced Azdec infra-red mobile communications system with the introduction of a new battle-helmet headset that offers active noise reduction. This headset is designed to ensure clear audio communication is maintained, offering secure short-range voice communication using infra-red signals. Linear Technology launched its LTM4624, a 14V, 4A step-down µModule (micromodule) regulator. This device includes the DC/DC controller, power switches, inductor and compensation in a single package. Only two external ceramic capacitors (1206 case size) and a resistor (0603 or smaller case size) are required for operation. The device operates from a 4V to 14V input supply, delivering a regulated output adjustable between 0.6V to 5.5V.  

Above all, electronics provide capabilities that are critical to defence requirements and the effectiveness and severity of weapons systems are increasingly dependent upon the electronics subsystems they employ. To ensure proper equipment that can handle the demands of the Mil/Aero and defence industry a high performance and innovative industry is essential. The UK electronic component industry is proving its capabilities in these fields, delivering high-tech performance and in many cases providing the soldiers with the tools needed to fulfill their duties. As with many other applications, it is also all about partnerships and finding the right company with the right solution to handle the highly sensitive and demanding nature of the industry.

The Internet of Things craze: Stop debating terminology, start talking money 

31 October 2013 06:06:00

Raghu Das, CEO at IDTechEx explores the latest debate

 

The term the Internet of Things was conceived when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set up the Auto ID Center in 1998. It focused on applying an electronic tag (RFID) to all items, effectively connecting them to a wider network - the Internet. Automated monitoring en-masse throughout the value chain could make logistics faster and more cost effective, reduce theft and counterfeiting and provide other benefits such as no stock-outs in shops. However, this ambitious project took time to take off - developing the technology, standards and then finding the first financially successfully applications.

The UHF RFID industry moved through the hype cycle of visionary dreaming; huge investment; disappointment in early sales, performance and user pull, to a pragmatic and now increasingly profitable approach today. This involved focusing mainly on ‘closed loop’ systems - applications where the technology gives a strong payback. This is then expanded to other locations and eventually these locations may connect up, such as in retail apparel, where many of the world’s largest apparel retailers are tagging clothing to reduce stock-outs. The term the Internet of Things is barely mentioned in RFID circles nowadays - companies are focused on the pragmatic roll out of the technology and revenue generation.

The Internet of Things v2

A catchy title like the Internet of Things is too good to waste, so it has been resurrected again by a different set of companies - not those focused on low cost, passive RFID tags, but more those making powered sensors and consumer electronics, such as mobile phones and their communication links and back end data management. This is driven by the rise of mobile computing - mainly smart phones - which has unwittingly created a huge global, connected infrastructure of high computing capability. Smart phones can be connected RFID readers, positioning devices, offer many connectivity options (WiFi, low power Bluetooth etc) and much more. What's more, consumers want smart phones. Privacy implications have yet to be aired in this new Internet of Things because consumers are likely to want most of the benefits of it.

Businesses from consumer goods companies to pharmaceuticals are jittery with excitement as smart phones and the enabling edge technologies such as wireless sensors, RFID tags and others enable new ways for them to engage with and add value to their customers. Look at the success of the Nike+ band in the USA, for example.

Is it at the beginning of the hype cycle again?

This time round, many of the organisations involved are different. It is not companies pursuing low cost passive tags but telecoms providers that want to handle as much data as possible over the expensive wireless communication networks they have deployed. It involves network companies that seek to sell more switches and storage. It is big data companies that want to add value by exploiting the huge amounts of data that will be generated.

However, IDTechEx, which has tracked the RFID and wireless sensor industry since 1999, has some concerns. The brilliant and worst thing about the Internet of Things is that it is so broad. Does it include passive RFID, wireless sensors, machine to machine M2M, big data, cloud computing and storage? Others believe the Internet of Things is not enough and the true term is the Internet of Everything because people are part of the network.

This all begins to distract from what is important - providing a useful service. If the industry cannot clearly understand what it is then what hope is there for adopters to implement it? As we saw the first time round, the global open systems envisaged take time to commercialise - with heavy losses along the way. Meanwhile, the successful companies were quietly deploying tangible RFID systems solving problems with great return. Those avoiding the 'glamour' usually did well.

IDTechEx

www.idtechex.com

A game of strategy 

18 October 2013 12:14:00

Michelle Winny, Editor of Electronics talks to Steve Roberts, Managing Director of Amphenol about the company’s restructuring initiatives for meeting the demands of military and defence applications

The human machine interface is a phenomenon that is also quickly infiltrating the military and defence market as the trend for wearable electronics is proliferated by shrinking device geometries. Along with the HMI, the concept of interaction is also shaping the way we do business, as the acumen of ‘listening to and interacting with your customers as a route to innovation’ continues as a driving force.

Companies such as Amphenol are taking the HMI revolution a step further and are running the gauntlet with a worldwide vision of connecting people and technology through its manufacturing capabilities by giving its customers a direct involvement with the company’s vision of the future.  To keep at the fore of innovation and to drive towards this ideal, literally with a futuristic vision of manufacturing, the company is planning a £2.3 million capital investment into its manufacturing facility in Whitstable, Kent.

To help spearhead this mammoth project the company has recently appointed Steve Roberts as General Manager who is already rising to the challenge with a clear vision of driving this project forward.  Roberts advises: “Amphenol has already begun plans to develop its prototyping facility in the UK at its manufacturing facility in Whitstable. The capitol investment includes bringing on board seven new engineers to focus on customer requirement.  The investment will centre upon state-of-the-art manufacturing lines for our UK production of new interconnection development technology in areas of specialisation which includes hermetics, miniature and filter products for industrial as well as aerospace and defence sectors.”

The company is also undergoing a 20 month programme, which commenced in April 2013, which is under the ‘Future Site’ initiative, a vision to incorporate new manufacturing lines together with contemporary work practices.  “We are literally asking our customers what they need most from a facility such as this and their feedback is now forming the basis of the services and capabilities of the new facility and what we are planning on implementing,” said Roberts.

In the age of globalisation, the company has endeavoured to retain its full end-to-end manufacturing capability for its products in the UK, whilst having opened access to low cost manufacturing sites around the world to complement its offering to customers globally.

According to Roberts: “The first objective is to structure the business – the systems, planning etc. to equip the company for the plan ahead. The second objective is to significantly improve the flow and responsiveness in prototyping and new product development and attach this to a greater international sales activity.  Thirdly, the aim is to use a combination of low cost plants in India and Mexico in conjunction with the latest standards of operational performance in the UK to make the company as competitive as is possible.”

Roberts is indeed the man to drive these operations forward with an already established career within the Amphenol Corporation, having originally joined the company with the acquisition of Jaybeam in 2008.  He served as General Manager of Amphenol Jaybeam UK from 2006 through 2010.  Most recently Roberts has held the role of Global Director of Worldwide Site Solutions for Amphenol RF and Microwave.  “Amphenol is a business that has been in the industry some 50 years and has this knowledge and experience as a solid foundation. We are now looking to the future by refocusing our markets and the manner we concentrate on them.”

With $4 billion yearly global revenue, the company currently employs around 300 people at its site in Whitstable, Kent and provides a full design and manufacturing service for a large range of connectors and interconnect solutions; including cable assembly, over-moulding and electronic packaging.

“It gives me pride to join one of Amphenol’s leading sites with such a strong history and pedigree in this sector, as we now look to the challenges of growing business in the UK and to forge a stronger position within the global industry and the Amphenol group,” said Roberts. 

Amphenol

www.amphenol.co.uk

 

The Internet is not the only way to do business 

08 October 2013 10:06:00

In an interview with, Solid States Supplies, Michelle Winny, Editor of ­Electronics speaks with the company’s MD, John Macmichael to find out how niche distributors are still well placed against major broadliners and how e-commerce has yet to replace good fashioned business practises

 

Differentiating yourself when you are a niche distributor in an industry that often appears over shadowed by larger broadliners can seem tough for smaller operations. However the role of the smaller distributor sits squarely beside that of the larger broadliners, as John Macmichael, Managing Director of Solid State Supplies explains: “Life for niche distributors has never been easy within the UK electronics market. “However estimates suggest there is close to some 400 smaller distributors operating in the UK versus a handful of large broadliners. This alone indicates the fact that there is still a major role to be played by the niche distributor.” This is particularly so when quality of customer service and a superior level of technical expertise is at the forefront of business objectives. Solid State Supplies is a franchised distributor that primarily services the UK OEM market. The company ­specialises in semiconductors, related components and modules for embedded processing, control and communications, power management, and LED lighting. John advises: “As we focus on products from a limited number of suppliers, we understand their products in depth and so can offer customers outstanding levels of commercial and technical support.” The distributor believes, excellent customer service is achieved through maintaining personnel with very high levels of technical expertise. This enables the company to offer a tailored service, achieved through closer business relationships and by truly understanding customer needs, which is not always possible with bigger broadliners. “By their very nature the larger broadline distributors with the best will in the world can’t hope to employ experts in all areas of electronics, nor can they give detailed attention to the thousands of UK electronics companies, Macmichael said. There are many companies out there who often require very small order quantities or a service that is bespoke. Often such small order requirements are not attractive to larger broadliners or they cannot facilitate the extra customer service. In responses to this Macmichael advises: “A need arises therefore at two levels: first and foremost customers that don’t have the large spend necessary to justify the attention of the broadliners still need support; secondly suppliers that don’t fall into the top 20 or so in the world need a sales channel that will actively promote and support their products. This leaves a very large proportion of the market available to the niche distributor. The  age  of doing  business t online For many companies across the industrial spectrum, the Internet and online sales are paramount to business, if not increasingly making up the greater proportion of business. However not for Solid State Supplies, who has yet to enter into the field of online commerce. Perhaps nowadays this would appear somewhat out of place with the rest of the industry but not necessarily so as Macmichael advises: “As broadliners are forced to battle it out over the Internet responding to major innovations from their overseas competitors and to lower cost models being operated elsewhere in the world, the niche ­distributor is left to do what it does best – add value. “No amount of web-based innovation will, for example, ever truly replace the need to hold dedicated stock or replace face-to-face, hands-on, skilled engineering support.” Macmichael explains: “The NHS 111 service has adequately demonstrated what happens when support is passed to staff following scripts from a computer program, whilst Internet-based FAQ centres frequently serve only to prove that the question that needs resolving is in fact not one that is frequently asked. The answer of course is field-based application support provided by highly skilled engineers from niche distributors. Some niche distributors, like Solid State Supplies, take this one stage further by not only employing highly trained application engineers alongside franchise specialists but also by partnering with expert companies. “The broadliners through their immense Internet resources may be able to provide some of the biggest tools in the business but tools are of little use if you haven’t been trained in their use. Again specialists like us are able to provide a solution with  regular, free, hands-on training for customers ensuring that their investment is kept current and both fully and ­efficiently utilised, Macmichael continued. Of course expectations of value go well beyond the ability to provide technical and commercial support but again the niche distributor is able to respond as John explains: “The agile approach taken by Solid State Supplies means that their in-house secure programming facility, one of the very few certified to AS9100, can be utilised to provide 24 hour turn around on FPGA samples for customers, to tape and reel devices in quantities that would frankly be uneconomic for broadline distributors, or to bake customer products that would otherwise be unusable. For niche ­distributors the term service is used to encompass all of their customers not just the handful in the top 20 percent.” The distributor has experienced continued  growth and success highlighting how its business model is successfully working as John explains: “Solid State Supplies is one of the few companies that have managed to grow their business significantly throughout the market downturn and it has done this by investing heavily in the things that customers want. Macmichael summarises with a view to the future: “No niche distributor can afford to be complacent and web-based services will inevitably be a part of the way we do business but the reality is that people still do business with people whether that’s in engineering or purchasing. It’s still a people business.”

 

Michelle WinnyMichelle Winny

With a combination of news, products and feature articles, Michelle provides up-to-wire commentary on new technology and legislation. Coupled with in depth coverage for specifiers and purchasers of electronic components and equipment, Michelle brings everything within the electronics market directly to her readers.