Daniel Gordon, Contributor at Large
When Engineering Production Test Manager Miroslav (Mirek) Karas started his career as a part-time production engineer 25 years ago, he recalls seeing teams of four to five engineers working tirelessly for weeks to qualify a single model in Mini-Circuits’ catalog.
Now, he says, similar tasks often take one engineer less than one day to complete.
“It’s absolutely stunning, how far we’ve come,” Mirek said. “It’s a combination of technological advancements, process improvements, and our commitment to quality in all areas.”
The technological advancements are largely thanks to Mini-Circuits’ investment in high-end Vector Network Analyzers (VNAs), which enable Mirek and the team of test engineers he oversees to meet the constant demand for RF testing coming from all directions in the organization.
“We receive not only engineering samples for new products, but also requests from production, failure analysis, applications and other branches in the company as well as external vendors,” Mirek said. “They all lead back to RF testing.”
It’s a good thing those VNAs are humming along with some of Mini-Circuits’ home-grown test solutions to speed up the throughput, because the volume could otherwise be inundating. The engineering test department averages at least 1,500 projects per year. In 2020, the final tally was 1,800; and halfway through 2021, the running count is already at 1,300. A project might contain two units or two hundred. A test may take a few hours or a few weeks, depending on the components and qualifications involved.
Technology is a game-changer, but it’s nothing without the talent and brainpower to operate it. Test engineers at Mini-Circuits complete upwards of a year in training before taking on their own projects, followed by several more years under Mirek’s wing.
“From my experience, it requires almost five years of repetition to become a creative problem solver in this field,” Mirek said. “We’re fortunate that we have the culture, reputation and resources to attract the best up-and-coming engineers out of school.”
Electrical Test Engineer Andre Gustave said it’s his ideal atmosphere. “You have a lot going on all the time, but the systems and personnel are in place so that it’s not overwhelming,” he said. “You have freedom to think, encouragement to innovate, and the tools to perform.”
As Mini-Circuits converts its core components to higher frequencies, testing becomes more crucial and, in many ways, more challenging, in terms of the equipment that can be used and how tests must be conducted. Mini-Circuits’ test engineers are evolving to assume the role of development engineers, meaning they are developing procedures and methodologies that make the company stronger all around.
“It’s not just about testing, but about getting the best out of our products,” Andre said. “Our roles as development engineers are core to the company’s Quality Policy.”
As Mini-Circuits continues to grow, so will the engineering test department and the ongoing, mission-critical workload its engineers collectively fulfill. In 2021, Mini-Circuits remodeled the department located in Mini-Circuits’ Neptune Avenue facility, significantly expanding the square footage and number of test stations. “You can feel the fresh air and the energy,” Mirek says, joking that his office now feels like a large aquarium. “It’s an exciting time for our team.”