Wireless Systems Design

Results Come From Polygamy Of Quick, Cheap, And Good

In the time that it takes to read this article, dozens of new electronics products will have already hit the marketplace. Each one will attempt to service those professionals trying to do more in less time. These individuals believe that their productivity will rise because they have easy access to increased information much more quickly than ever before. This "more" and "quicker" is enabled by higher bandwidth or capacity, which in turn is made possible by the use of higher frequencies. The growth curve on this is exponential.

For an engineer who is developing or enhancing these products, the interconnect between the boards, equipment, or systems is typically the last consideration addressed. At a time when performance, cost, and lead time are all critical concerns, a high-performance custom cable assembly frequently becomes a necessary alternative. One such option comes from a company called Semflex. By using a unique engineering approach, it promises to achieve a balanced solution to all three complex concerns.

For many engineers, the copper-cable interconnect is often the system's initial Achilles heel. In this age of rapidly developing products with increased frequency performance, however, the copper-cable interconnect solution must become more like the engineers' Holy Grail. These engineers are already pushing the technical envelope with their creative magic. Now more than ever before, they're being forced to shorten development cycles while reducing costs.

The obvious answer to this dilemma is to integrate as many commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components as possible. Unfortunately, though, this solution is proving to be a handicap. It often leads to inferior performance and higher installed costs. Even though they're usually quick and cheap, the cable assemblies manufactured from COTS connectors and cables can create performance problems. These problems might include loss of reflection due to impedance mismatch or physical issues, such as low-connector retention.

There must be another alternative. One viable option is the subordinate-assembly-level-standardization (SALS) solution. It yields rapid, cost-effective new-product development through the custom configuration of standardized components and raw materials.

With SALS, design software is utilized to rapidly develop a custom-cable configuration from standard center conductors, braid wire, and insulation materials. Standardized processes, tooling, and equipment produce the custom cable from standard materials. At the same time, they ensure that it meets unique loss, flexure, power, temperature, or phase requirements. Difficult performance criteria can even be achieved by combining helical-wound shielding, woven braiding, and standard material and processes.

To create a connector to match a unique cable, SALS allows standard components to be "mixed and matched." Often, a standard, high-volume, low-cost connector can be modified quickly and cost effectively to match a less standard cable. Such a task can be accomplished by switching out components like a center pin or crimp sleeve. This "interchangeable" back end can be adapted to fit custom cables. It also can be implemented across a connector series.

Standardized components allow manufacturing equipment, tooling, and processes to become standardized. As this occurs with processes, products, and equipment, the training and certification of employee skills may be standardized as well. This reduces variation in the assembly process and eliminates the high cost of human error.

In truth, SALS yields many benefits. These include:

  • A reduction in inventory costs. Fewer part numbers must be kept in stock to achieve short lead times or just-in-time (JIT) flows.
  • Increased manufacturing efficiencies by utilizing standardized processes. Flow lines can remain permanently set up to perform "like" operations across product lines.
  • A reduction in tooling and fixturing costs, such as crimp tools and dies. This decrease is due to fewer variations in component sizes and configurations.
  • Improved quality/reduced scrap thanks to higher yields.
  • Reduced training and certification of assemblers. This leads to a quicker ramp-up for volume production.
  • Shorter lead times, better on-time delivery, and reduced overtime. These benefits are derived from sub-standardized components, tooling, and processes.

SALS is quickly taking the lead in the next evolution of the COTS and JIT movements. This positioning makes perfect sense. After all, SALS lends itself perfectly to the latest quality initiatives, such as Lean and Six Sigma.

Every engineer needs low cost, high quality, and short lead time in a custom product. These same engineers have been forever seeking this lover's triangle of quick, cheap, and good. Now, thanks to options like SALS, they may no longer have to settle for a monogamous relationship with just two of the three.

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