Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology is having a disruptive effect in the microwave and radio frequency (RF) industry, bringing to the table the ideal combination of high-performance and low cost. GaN-on-Silicon (GaN-on-Si), in particular, is set to take advantage of economies of scale and offer customers comparable price points to LDMOS at scaled volume production levels, while still achieving GaN on Silicon Carbide (SiC)-like performance.
These breakthroughs mean that GaN is progressively finding its way into new markets, perhaps most notably RF energy applications for cooking, industrial heating, plasma lighting and medical applications. These applications use controlled electromagnetic radiation to heat items or to drive processes. Bulky, brute force magnetron tubes that are currently used to generate this energy will soon be replaced by a solid-state RF system – delivering flexibility, control and a new level of system reliability that will enable many new use cases.
The efficiency of GaN is typically 10% better than LDMOS or more, which translates into significant energy savings when your power level might be 600W or higher. On top of this, the extra efficiency translates into better overall system reliability. GaN is also easier to design with than LDMOS, and creates more reproducible results. It can be used successfully at all ISM frequency bands such as 433MHz, 915MHz and 2.45GHz and even in the ISM band at 5.8GHz.
Optimizing the Design Process
Look at traditional RF applications, for example cellular networks, that have architectures which have been around for at least 15 years. Engineers know the standard transistors and components for these inside out. They don’t require much assistance to go and build their own systems, regardless of the technology.
In newer RF energy applications, it’s more or less the same technologies and the same transistors. But, inevitably, engineers in these fields may not have as much RF experience, and there’s potentially a gap in technical knowledge. To keep investment down and get to market quickly, designers can benefit from an improved process to control the transistors to generate energy, and how to drive that energy into their application – making design easier, and speeding time to market.
Accelerating Time to Market
To help engineers create RF energy applications, MACOM is putting together an RF Energy Designer Toolkit, which combines multiple components in a pre-integrated and tested kit.
MACOM’s RF Energy Toolkit packages our various GaN-on-Si transistors, the MACOM GaN-on-Si RF energy sources, with a MACOM control system on the front end. This is delivered with a software package that gives the designer full control of all the key parameters, in addition to a control network and high performing amplifier.
The toolkit allows designers to develop what are known as ‘applicators,’ which determine how RF energy is delivered into different applications. Understandably, a cooking application has a different way of getting energy into the cavity than a plasma lighting application. These applicators are easy to use and feature high-performance, offering designers a head start on the design-in process.
With this help to get them on their way, a designer can focus on their own application and dramatically cut their time to market. MACOM’s RF Energy Toolkit enables designers to create a more reliable end product, making available the resources to debug and see the advantages of the different electrical parameters and frequencies in their own application, without the need to invest in a big design team.
MACOM is excited to realize the full potential of the RF Energy Toolkit and further enable designers to utilize solid-state RF energy in an easy, affordable and efficient way for their applications. Keep an eye out for the developing toolkit and more of its features – coming soon!