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Article: RF Design--Eliminate the "Black Magic"

RF Design - Eliminate the 'Black Magic'

by Tim Mintzer, EDC Inc.

Like any electronics development project, an RF design can be broken down into 3 basic phases.

  1. Specification Phase
  2. Development Phase
  3. Production Phase

Each phase presents its unique challenges on an RF circuit compared to other electronic circuits.

Specification Phase:

Although it is extremely useful, but not necessary, having a person in your facility with a basic understanding of RF will help streamline the specification phase. However, since this is usually not the case, the consultant should be able to guide you through this phase. By having a good understanding of the product's functionality, a detailed specification can be generated. Remember to include any regulatory testing required such as FCC, CE, VDE, etc.

During the specification phase, it is a good idea to put the consultant on a small retainer to accomplish this task. Most specifications can be formalized in much less that 10 hours and will save hours in the long run. Too many times, companies will send out a "half baked" spec and insist that consultants bid on the project. Upon contract award, the consultant will realize that certain specs are not achievable and will begin the long arduous negotiation process.

A well detailed specification will save time and money in the long run. It can also prevent "soured" relationships with the client and consultant.

Development Phase:

From the detailed specification, the consultant will begin the design phase. Realize that the specification is the consultant's "guiding light" for the development. An RF project will require more "up front" analysis and computations. With the many analysis software programs available, the consultant should have these tools available to use in this phase. Because of the "magic" nature of RF, it is important to thoroughly analyze the proposed circuit. This will help reduce the number of board turns to achieve the required specifications.

During the actual breadboard build and test phase, an RF circuit will present many unforeseen challenges. These will present themselves in the form of oscillations, gain problems, VSWR problems, etc. It is important for the client to understand that these problems will require more time to solve. It is not uncommon in an RF circuit to build the circuit, solve these problems, then change the layout, only to find new problems. This is where experience and a thorough analysis will help.

Production Phase:

Sometimes RF circuits will require different manufacturing and test methods. The client should require that these considerations be addressed in the Statement of Work/Specification. Most RF engineers are well versed in the unique manufacturing and test methods required. They can guide the client setting up manufacturing and test lines or help to select a competent Contract Assembly company. Training is also an important consideration and should be addressed.


Although the actual phases are the same as any other electronics development effort, RF circuits are more challenging. Clients with a basic understanding of these various challenges will be more effective working with a consultant. This will lead to a better, quicker and more manufacturable design.

© 2005 - Tim Mintzer and EDC Inc. - Reproduction without permission prohibited. All Rights Reserved

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