Q: There’s a distinct shortage of RF engineers, particularly among engineering school graduates. Has that improved somewhat, or do you see a need for companies like yours to promote careers in microwave engineering via campus promotions, summer internships, contests/competitions, or some other method?
A: The availability of viable engineering talent remains a shortage in New England. To supplement our core team, SemiGen has enlisted the services of dedicated RF/Microwave engineering consultants in specific areas of Microwave Design, Test, and Manufacturer. We’ve had similar problems in finding qualified assemblers. The workforce is shrinking because the labor pool is finding competitive salaries in other retail and consumer positions. But we have had some success in reaching out to local technical schools and giving students interested in microwave engineering and production the opportunity to work under our consultant’s tutelage and then work their way onto our shop floor. It’s clear to us that the USA needs to create a national interest in engineering careers, particularly in our RF/Microwave niche.
Q: For those of you primarily in the military market, what do you expect of next year’s military budget (as yet undetermined)? For those in the commercial side of the business, are you encouraged by any particular emerging application or technologies?
A: I would expect to see new programs get reduced funding and repairs and maintenance on existing platforms rise. I expect to see more money spent on UAV type platforms where troop involvement is kept to a minimum.The medical sector and the LED sector for us will see a 40% increase over FY2011. We also expect to see new applications develop in the microwave market in the area of RF microwave detection systems to detect urban traffic, commodities and transportation.
Q: After the 2008 economic meltdown, our industry showed great resilience (in general) these past two years. Unfortunately, the global economy remains in turmoil. Have we learned from those tough times, or do you fear another big dip for our industry?
A: What we’ve learned from these tough times is to stay focused on core competency. As the former CEO of MicroMetrics (now Aeroflex / Metelics) I weathered all kinds of change in our industry. At one point, we tried our hand at a parallel technology, thin film. I thought it showed great potential. But I quickly found out that the skills, equipment, and tribal knowledge necessary to produce repeatable circuits was something that would take years to master. And the future was unclear. So I sold the line to our friendly competitor, UltraSource, who themselves personifies the focused discipline I’m talking about. I think some other executives got caught holding a few more bags in those rough times. SemiGen, in fact, has been born out of this era. We’re set up to take on overflow work in peak times, can provide turnkey manufacturing and testing, carry and supply stock, and even take over an entire product line to keep our customers’ production and R & D teams focused on the future, and staff counts in balance.
In regards to another big dip, I don’t think so. But nor do I expect another big hockey stick in spending. Steady growth through maintenance programs and unmanned military platforms and unique RF commercial applications will be the key drivers. I think our US economy has figured out how to stabilize itself. The trouble is, everyone wants the credit for it. And our 3 party system is creating gridlock. Maybe this Occupy Wall Street movement is the yang we need to balance the ying and things will get back on track.
Q: What new product or technological developments have most excited you and your employees?
A: Having spent the last 2 decades in the semiconductor business I’ve been thrilled to be a part of creating continued promise in silicon devices, such as high powered SMT switches and limiters. The great part of being on the other side of the business however, is I’ve found new allies in other extremely exciting technologies such as GaN, GaAs mHEMT, pHEMT, InP, and SiGe. I can’t wait to see some of these products mature and become readily available. The performance potential at higher frequencies will create all new design/manufacturing paradigms. And the players are being born out of the change that’s been impacting our industry through acquisition and monopolization. The little guys are very nimble and the foundries are recognizing that they can be successful partnering with smaller engineering teams with big ideas that can be proven quickly.
Q: Which markets or technologies do you feel will propel the industry in the coming years?
A: The inevitable return to onshore manufacturing will not only help SemiGen it will be a renaissance for the entire RF/Microwave industry. It quite simply isn’t as efficient to build products offshore as it once was. We’ll all need the educated workforce to handle the uptick, so I expect RF education, recruiting and training to boom.