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Manufacturing Electronic Microwave Components

Manufacturing Electronic Microwave Components

Since its initial stages of discovery and development, microwave technology has become common in both commercial and private fields. Microwaves are electromagnetic waves with frequencies that fall approximately between the 300 megahertz and 300 gigahertz range. These waves have myriad applications in communications technology, heating appliances, remote sensing, astronomy, the medical industry, and a wide variety of military and aerospace products.  (For a look at the electro-magnetic spectrum, see picture below, or follow this link.)

As a result of the ubiquitous uses for microwave technology, microwave manufacturing is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. But, whether designing wireless connectivity devices, producing global positioning systems, or building microwave ovens, many manufacturers rely on a specific set of components commonly found in most microwave assemblies. These electronic parts influence a host of variables, such as bandwidth and frequency rate, and are necessary for the proper use and development of microwave products. 

Waveguides 

Electromagnetic wave spectrumA specialized category of devices is used to control and steer the movement of electromagnetic waves. These “waveguides are typically metal-based transmission lines pitched at microwave frequencies to bridge connections between antennas and receivers. They are usually constructed with electrically conductive materials, such as copper or silver plating, but can also be formed of dielectric insulators if the interior walls are properly coated with conductors. Alternatives to traditional waveguide systems, such as microstrips and coaxial cables, are generally less expensive but suffer from lower transmission capacity and a less efficient power handling rate.

A
waveguidehttp://www.thomasnet.com/images/suppliers-small.png customarily consists of a circulator that provides a one-way channel for the signal, an attenuator that regulates signal strength, and an amplifier to offset transmission loss, along with numerous secondary components. Some of the common manufacturing processes used to produce waveguides include:

  • Electroforming: This fabrication technique creates a solid metal shape by transferring particles onto a substrate surface in an electrolytic bath. The substrate form is then removed, leaving a completed waveguide frame. Electroforming is useful for crafting some the complex geometries involved in waveguide design, but is not well-suited for microwave assemblies that will undergo any significant amount of physical stress.
  • Electronic Discharge Machining (EDM): EDM methods employ high-voltage electrical charges to melt away excess stock from a metal workpiece in order to form the desired waveguide shape. Wire EDM makes thin linear cuts to produce highly complex designs and results in very precise waveguide specifications, while plunging EDM applies charged carbon particles and is even more accurate than the wire method, albeit more expensive.
  • Brazing: This is a process commonly used for producing aluminum waveguides. A molten bonding layer is applied to multiple metal pieces and joins them together into a solid component. Brazing is a less expensive alternative to electroforming, but warping may occur during the product’s hardening phase, and care must be taken to prevent the waveguide components from melting during the heating period.

Connectors 

Electrical connectors constitute a large portion of the microwave technology manufacturing market. They are conductive devices used to bridge electrical circuits and can serve as permanent joints between microwave componentshttp://www.thomasnet.com/images/suppliers-small.png. Microwave connectors often form termination units in coaxial connections and provide housing and circuit board support. Most microwave assemblies use them in 50 or 70 ohm settings. Some common connector types include:

  • SMA: The Sub-Miniature Version A (SMA) connector is a coaxial cable device that functions on the multi-megahertz or gigahertz frequency range. The base design has a 4.2 millimeter diameter and can withstand maximum frequencies from 18 to 26 gigahertz. SMA connectors can also be coated with gold or stainless steel plated heads. SMB and SMC connectors are smaller versions of the SMA.
  • Type N: This is one of the oldest types of coaxial cable connectors suitable for microwave transmissions. N connectors can usually handle between 10 and 12 gigahertz maximum frequency and are most often found in communication and cable television systems.
  • GPO: A GPO is a type of push-on connector that is typically used when threaded connections are impractical. It has a non-threaded lock design, often coupled with a spring mechanism to improve alignment. GPO connectors are generally easier to apply and remove than other connectors, as they require no additional tools for installation. 

Absorbers

Microwave absorbers help to convert electromagnetic wave discharges into heat units and, rather than reflecting waves, absorb unwanted energy in order to dissipate it. They are usually produced with carbon-based foam, die-cut elastomers, or thermoplastic materials. Absorbers are often used to offset design or production errors in microwave systems, but they can also be a valuable addition because they provide improved signal functions by addressing antenna pattern problems and frequency interference.

Absorbers are commonly measured by their capacity for attenuation, which refers to the signal strength reduction in decibels. They tend to be lightweight and most can handle frequencies up to 40 gigahertz. Absorbers can also be specified for broadband or narrowband performance, corrosion resistance, die-cut or molded fabrication, and a variety of different frequency ranges. Absorbers have numerous applications in the military industry, particularly radar systems, as well as telecommunications, aerospace, medical equipment, and automobile manufacturing. 

Assembly

Waveguides (and their various subcomponents), connectors, and absorbers are some of the most common electronic parts used in microwave technology, and manufacturing these products constitutes the bulk of the microwave market. Due to the broad range of specifications for each component category, microwave assembly can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of a particular application.

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