Celebrating IMS and a Special Birthday

Jun 22, 2018 | Posted by: David Vye


It is not every day that you find yourself surrounded by microwave industry folk singing happy birthday to design software. But at this year’s customer appreciation party, some 600 fellow Microwave Office software fans joined Dr. John Dunn and me in a robust (and slightly off tune) rendition of this celebratory ditty. Although some people may have missed the occasion we are commemorating, the admiration and loyalty for this product was clearly evident. 

For those who are not aware, it was in Baltimore in 1998 that Microwave Office circuit simulation made its IMS debut (often known back then as MTT). I remember it well and the big splash that the real-time tuning generated on show attendees. At most IMS events, there are only a handful of new technologies that get exhibitors/attendees excited enough to create a show buzz and draw a crowd to the booth. In 1998, the crowd pleaser was Microwave Office, tucked away in the outer regions of the exhibition floor. No matter, everyone was willing to go see the future of RF EDA. Prior to that, designers hit the simulate button and watched the timer bar inch forward until the simulation was complete and the graph updated. Depending on the circuit complexity, this could be a few seconds or several minutes.

At the time, the concept of interactively modifying circuit parameters and watching the results in real time was truly radical for design software, yet it mirrored the engineering experience in the test lab. Circuit tweaking on the test bench was a common practice and necessary due to the uncertainty inherent in circuit simulation prior to the integration of electromagnetic (EM) analysis/verification in the design flow. The founder of AWR and the early Microwave Office developers understood the needs of the RF circuit designer and set out to build a tool that would address their needs in a more intuitive and productive way. And while the prevailing software vendors may have shrugged off the real-time tuning as a gimmicky tool, market demand forced the introduction of similar (though less user-friendly and slower) capabilities years later.

What the other vendors did not know or appreciate was that the real-time tuning tool was just the beginning, an initial ground-breaking innovation that was just the first glimpse into the founder's vision to empower engineers with a tool that anticipated their design needs and provided an elegant solution. The vision embraced a unified data model (UDM) that provided the full integration of layout and schematic-based design entry. This unique architecture would provide a valuable improvement over the previous, disjointed, unidirectional workflow based on translating layout views from schematic drawings. The UDM supported a streamlined approach to realizing physical designs and set the stage for seamless integration of EM analysis within the circuit design flow. EM co-simulation via the EM Socket™ architecture appeared in 2003 and further provided for third-party EM point tools interoperability directly within the Microwave Office environment. AWR’s own open-boundary method-of-moments 3D planar (AXIEM) and full 3D finite-element method EM (Analyst™) tools would shortly follow, as would many other innovations to support AWR’s original yet evolving vision.

At this year’s IMS, we introduced attendees to a preview of NI AWR Design Environment V14, our latest offering in the fulfillment of this vision. A key component to improving the RF design workflow addresses how engineers convert specs into initial designs. The importance of which was acknowledged with the acquisition of the AntSyn™ automated antenna synthesis technology that utilizes evolutionary (genetic) algorithms with EM analysis and optimization to produce physical antenna designs from user specifications. V14 software leverages this technology to further expand our synthesis offerings to include impedance-matching circuit synthesis.

AWR Innovations (Click to enlarge)

This new-to-market synthesis tool, available as an add-on module with the release of V14, is particularly helpful for challenging broadband or multiband single- and multi-stage amplifiers, as well as antenna/amplifier matching networks. It also helps designers develop impedance-matching networks between front-end components. As the footprints of RF components shrink to meet market demand for smaller embedded radios in internet of things (IoT) smart devices, the network synthesis wizard helps designers save space, consolidating component-to-component matching networks by directly transforming the impedance between each component rather than requiring an intermediary characteristic impedance, for instance, 50 ohms.

The interactive wizard provides a smart interface to guide the designer through the synthesis setup, defining the matching criteria for specific amplifier performance, specifying the two target networks to be matched from an automatically populated list of project networks (schematics), and providing options for tailoring the set of network topologies for the optimum topology searches. The designer can also set certain constraints on the matching network, including the number of sections, topology, component type, and configuration (series/shunt), as well as parameter limits. This new wizard is the perfect companion technology to the load-pull analysis capability previously added to the Microwave Office circuit simulator.

Other new features in V14 software include the next generation of our proprietary phased-array wizard, powerful editing tools in our printed circuit board (PCB) wizard, and iNet™ intelligent net enhancements. There is also support for conformal antennas in AXIEM planar EM simulator and new port types (point ports and internal ports), as well as a new report dashboard with dynamic measurement management for organizing simulation results of components with numerous spec requirements. Finally, there is an all-new user interface for the tuner that started our journey 20 years ago (see earlier blog). The new interface supports large-scale parametric tuning for the RF designs that define today’s communication electronics.

As the wireless revolution continues to drive the state of microwave design, the developers of the NI AWR Design Environment software portfolio and specifically Microwave Office software will be working to further enhance its capabilities to keep pace with emerging design challenges and support the engineering success of next-generation products.