The Case for Benchmark Phoenix

by Jan Janick, SVP & CTO / May 29, 2020

When we describe our new Benchmark Phoenix facility, we often list the vertically-integrated engineering and design, microelectronic assembly, surface mount technology (SMT) assembly, and functional test capabilities housed there. Or we talk about the kinds of technology problems we help our customers solve, like optimizing size, weight, and power (SWaP) or designing RF systems that perform at high frequency. But if we’re thinking about the big picture, what Benchmark Phoenix really offers is a new approach to solving technology challenges. We are changing how a complex solution goes from an idea in someone’s head to a piece of technology in their hands.

Anyone who works in technology knows that cracking the science behind a big problem is necessary, but in no way sufficient, to bring a functioning solution to market. The limiting factor in product development is often the practical considerations of getting products designed and built cost-effectively (although regulations and other externalities can play a role). Silicon Valley culture has embraced Mark Zuckerberg’s now-famous motto: "move fast and break things," especially in the software field. For at least three decades, innovators have released a beta version and then used it to improve for the next version. Even with physical products, it's all about creating a minimum viable product and improving iteratively. But that doesn't work for things like missile guidance systems where "breaking things" clearly isn't acceptable.

So for a long time, conventional wisdom said that rapid iteration didn't apply to telecommunications backbone, space products, defense systems, etc. That assumption explains why these industries accepted the product development model constrained by the separation of various technologies essential for building full systems, such as microelectronic assembly and SMT assembly. The supply chain model of working with multiple vendors dictated the product development model available to engineers.

The limitations this system imposes on engineers grow as technology advances. The more compact electronics become, the greater the interdependencies. For example, if a line in a circuit board is off by 2 microns, the effects of that variance might not be evident until the micro-e assembly is complete.

In addition, many of the designs for the next generation of size reduction and performance at high frequencies require combining the advantages offered by different manufacturing processes. Essential manufacturing processes include embedded components, bare-die packaging, and microelectronics/SMT hybrid assemblies. Engineers have known for a long time that re-partitioning was vital to solving some of the SWaP and interference issues they faced. Still, manufacturing wasn't set up to make those designs a reality, so progress has been slow.

The engineering skills needed to make these RF and high-frequency electronics are very specialized, both on the design and manufacturing sides. Even companies with large engineering teams often need specialists to round out their teams. And engineers need sophisticated test equipment, not only to determine whether what they've built meets spec, but to determine if what they built works well, and how it can be even better.

Benchmark's Phoenix facility completely disrupts the electronics product development model for aerospace, defense, next-gen communications, advanced computing, and complex industrial products. We assert that innovation through rapid iteration can, and does apply, to high-reliability products. The ability to build, test, gather data, diagnose, improve, and build again is essential to moving these technologies forward. Yes, we test in a lab and not with beta users because detecting a failure in the field is not an option. But we don't accept that high-reliability products are the exception to rapid innovation through iteration.

If installing the right equipment in a facility was sufficient to force this shift, someone else would have done it by now. So what’s our secret sauce? We housed Benchmark Lark Technology in our Phoenix facility, giving customers access to Lark’s 30+ years' heritage in cutting-edge RF technologies, deep engineering expertise, and the most advanced manufacturing processes. This combination enables dramatic results, such as RF systems that perform at 110 GHz and Very High-Density Interconnect (VDHI) circuit boards featuring one mil lines and traces in 10+ layers.

We also ensure that good designs, once developed, can be scaled to required production levels. Without this crucial step, the designs developed at our unique facility would be constrained by traditional manufacturing that couldn't produce those embedded and hybrid designs. We offer production up to medium volumes in the Phoenix site. As production volumes increase, designs can be transferred across the Benchmark network to meet higher volumes, geographic proximity to market, or other requirements. Whether volume production happens in Phoenix or elsewhere, customers always have access to Phoenix's design development resources when it's time for upgrades and design improvements.

We've been talking to aerospace, defense, compute, and telecommunication innovators for more than two years about this big idea. We incorporated their feedback to tailor Benchmark Phoenix to their exact needs. With that input, we've built an engineer's dream, a playground that's all about eliminating barriers, not only technologically-speaking but operationally as well. We love it when a customer brings us a design they don’t believe can be built, or a design challenge they don’t believe can be solved, and we work to create a solution together.

On June 4th, we will officially declare Benchmark Phoenix open for business. We have already begun disrupting the product development model for RF and high speed electronics, and we can’t wait to see what technology challenges we’ll help our customers overcome next.

Want to find out how Benchmark Phoenix can disrupt your product development model for high-reliability high speed and RF systems? Contact us today!

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about the author

Jan Janick, SVP & CTO

Jan Janick is the Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Benchmark. Jan’s extensive customer-focused career spans more than 30 years leading high-performance multicultural technology development teams at industry-leading computing systems companies. His ability to make decisions quickly and inspire teams to move at the speed of technology makes him a valued contributor to the Benchmark executive team where he leads the world-wide product realization design teams through launch into the Benchmark factories.

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