13 Feb 2012
Keys for Successful New Test Equipment
Our Editor Ian Poole, talked to Bob Vogel, President of Aeroflex Test Solutions who provided interesting insights into Aeroflex and the electronics industry markets
Over the past years, Aeroflex has steadily increased its presence in the electronics marketplace. In particular its Test Solutions division has grown both organically and by acquisition.
It is now a major player in the test equipment scene, with instruments ranging from signal generators to spectrum analysers, and from vector analysers to radio test sets.
With Aeroflex having recently launched a number of new products onto the market, we took the opportunity to catch up with Bob Vogel, President of Aeroflex Test Solutions while he was on a visit to the UK.
We met in the lounge of the hotel where he was staying, and after a few initial comments, I asked him some questions about himself.
I asked Bob Vogel how – having been with Aeroflex for many years now – he came to be in his current position.
Laughing, Vogel replied: “If you have been around for as long as I have been and shown yourself to be productive, then you will get there. We’ve been successful with our business so it all helps. It’s more a matter of time! It’s not just about my abilities, but more what we have been able to do with the Test Solutions business.”
I asked what his background was, and whether he had been in management for his entire career.
Bob Vogel, President of Aeroflex Test Solutions
“No,” he replied, “I have an engineering background. I went to Drexel University for my undergraduate degree, and then later I took an MSEE and an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania. I have a background in DSP ASIC design from back in the 1980s when DSP was first starting and I became involved in it. Integrated circuits for this were new, and they interested me.”
“It was easy to become an expert when there were not many people doing it,” Vogel added modestly.
I asked Bob Vogel whether he ever wanted to get back onto the bench again.
“No,” he laughed, “Life has moved on and you have to stay current. We all rely on our engineering background for understanding the business - making sense of project schedules and being able to challenge ideas and ask questions. So I don’t want to go back - engineering itself is for the young.”
“New techniques develop and we get caught up in doing things a certain way - it’s just human nature. It’s not easy to change methodologies when you have been doing it for thirty years. When new people come in they see things in different ways and they are very capable - fortunately there are different career paths to take. But once technical always technical - it’s just a matter of how you apply that technical background.”
One of the questions that had interested me related to the IPO that had been completed in November 2010. I wondered if it had affected the business in any way, especially in terms of strategy or ways of working? I posed this question to Bob.
Vogel replied: “From a strategy point of view it hasn’t changed anything, although there are adjustments based upon how the market is, as well as the demands of our customers and also what our competitors are doing. But what the IPO has done is to make us strategically minded but also to act tactically. We have quarterly financial milestones that we have to achieve, and that is a little different to how things are when you are a private company.”
“Previously if we crossed quarterly thresholds to achieve a milestone is was not really a big deal - we were accountable to ourselves and as long as revenue was there in a reasonable time, that was fine. But now, as we are announcing our performance quarter-on-quarter and providing guidance for quarters in advance, and also being compared to our competitors, we have to achieve. So it has not changed our strategic approach, but it has changed our tactical view.”
“However, it has added a lot more reporting into the workload as analysts and the market have to be satisfied, ” Vogel explained, “and it has brought a lot more sleepless nights.”
With there being so many areas that a test company could address, I wondered about the areas on which Aeroflex is focussing its development these days - what are the major growth areas for Aeroflex?
Some Aeroflex Test Equipment
Vogel replied: “We take an overall marketplace perspective: the Test Solutions business has focussed on wireless telecoms, particularly RF in nature. We look to serve the cellular, non-cellular, commercial and military markets and also the avionics markets. Of these we have a number of sectors where we have a good leadership position – private mobile radio test, UE simulation markets and others.”
“For the overall strategy, we try to take a vertical approach: we try to develop first for the R & D market and then onto manufacturing, service and support. When developing a product we want to make sure it has multiple elements to the market so that it has the maximum amount of ‘pull-through’ for our investment - that’s across all our business.”
“As we develop product we focus on getting into market for the early adopters, typically the R & D side, and then we try to leverage that into the other applications such as manufacturing, service and support.”
With this in mind, I then followed on to ask whether the current economic climate had affected strategy and the way business is conducted.
In response to this question, Vogel replied: “It has not affected us from a strategy perspective - the demand is still there; the deployment of the new technologies is still there; the investments our customers are making are still there. What the economic climate has done is to slow capital spending. Customers continue to buy; they are just buying at a slower rate, or in lower volumes.”
He continued: “For example the roll-out of LTE infrastructure is not moving as quickly as expected, but it is moving. Organisations are functioning more slowly - there is no reason to roll out something when the uptake is not going to be that fast. This has benefits because operators are able to roll out their networks more slowly and make sure they meet expectations when they do go live. However we are now seeing more LTE handsets rolling out too.”
“This is creating a strong bow-wave of demand. We know our customers need the product, so when the situation eases, they will need to buy it. And we are working to make sure when the surge in requirement for product takes place, we can meet it. We don’t want to miss out because we are not prepared.”
As Aeroflex is a major player in the cellular market I ask Bob Vogel how the cellular industry figured in their overall plans.
Vogel replied: “Both wireless in general and the cellular industry are core to the markets we serve, and core to our strategy. It’s a market that spans commercial and consumer electronics, whether it’s a handset, tablet or a dongle that plugs into a PC - any device that will leverage the cellular or non-cellular technologies.”
“(We make) equipment such as the TM500 test mobile that emulates a handset and the 7100 that emulates a base station. So from a strategy viewpoint, these products enable us to support end-to-end testing. In R & D labs, for example, the 7100 allows testing to go forwards without the need for a live base station - and it also allows far more visibility to be obtained of the exchanges occurring than would be available with a base station. A true specification test can be also be performed.”
Aeroflex 7100 Digital Radio Test Set
Then Vogel added: “However, apart from the cellular instruments we have decided to get back into the general purpose test equipment market. This is not only with the recent spectrum analyser consolidation, but also the S-Series signal generators and analyzers.”
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About the author
Ian Poole is the editor of Radio-Electronics.com. Having studied at University College London to gain his degree he went on to undertake a career in electronic development working for companies including Racal. He became the hardware development manager at Racal Instruments where he was in charge of the hardware development activities within the company. Later moving in to free-lance work as a consultant he also developed Radio-Electronics.com to become one of the leading publications for professional electronics engineers. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Radio-Electronics.com is an Internet only publication for electronics engineers. Providing resources and analysis for engineers, it covers everything from circuit design to antennas, cellular technology to wireless, and RF design to processing and embedded.
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