everything RF Interviewed Scott Blanchard, co-founder and president of Vaunix Technology Corporation, the creator of Lab Brick™ Signal Generators, Digital Attenuators, and commercial hubs. Prior to founding Vaunix, he was the Vice President of Engineering for Nera Inc. where he was responsible for the design and development of a line of point to point microwave radio systems. Scott holds a BSEE from the University of Colorado and is an avid skier, soccer player, and youth soccer coach.
Q. Can you give us a brief history of Vaunix?
Vaunix was founded in 2005 as a self-funded spinoff from microwave radio manufacturer Nera Networks. Initially, Vaunix developed a repair center providing microwave radio repairs, 24/7 technical support and assembly, and test services to the telecommunications industry. In 2007, the Vaunix team introduced the industries first USB powered and controlled signal generators followed closely behind by broadband solid-state digital attenuators, switches, and phase shifters.
Q. Can you tell us about the Lab Brick Products - What are they, and how are they different from other products available in the market?
Lab Brick is the name trade marked by Vaunix to identify our line of USB powered and controlled test equipment. Unlike many other USB test equipment manufacturers, Lab Brick devices use a native USB HID interface to avoid the difficulties inherent in using older serial or IEEE-488 interfaces implemented over USB. As a result, Lab Brick users can get to work faster without having to install kernel level drivers, and Lab Brick devices can be easily used on any system that supports USB HID devices, including low cost embedded computers using Linux, Windows or similar operating systems.
Q. All Modular Products like the Lab Brick are defined by the Software/GUI that controls them - Can you tell us more about the Lab Brick Software/GUI?
Each Lab Brick product family has an associated GUI that is supplied on a USB flash drive with each order or can be downloaded from our website. The GUI easily installs to any Windows computer within seconds by running the setup file. The GUI is designed to maximize the flexibility of control while maintaining the intuitive feel that our customers have come to enjoy.
Q. Can Customers Write their own code to control the Lab Brick Products? What languages and platforms are the products compatible with?
As a standard base, Lab Brick products include 32/64 bit Windows DLLs, Linux drivers, and LabVIEW drivers. The dll and Linux files can be called from nearly every programming language with our most common applications using Python and MatLab. For some of our products, such as the attenuators and LMS signal generators, we also have a Python example written for use with a Raspberry Pi. We have many other examples to get our customers running quickly and we always provide prompt support for those that need assistance to get rolling.
Q. What are the applications for which Lab Bricks are the ideal product? What are some interesting applications where you have seen these products being used?
Our Lab Brick products are used in countless applications with customers of all sizes involved in commercial, military and educational industries located in all corners of the globe. The signal generator usage is especially diverse. They are used by small, one-person design and test consultants, University research labs and by some of the largest companies in the world.
Our signal generators are used as LO sources in transceiver test stands, chirped signal sources for terrain mapping and as a pulsed source for RADAR system development and test stations. We also have several customers using our signal generators as microwave sources for superconducting quantum computing research.
The digital attenuators are most commonly used in WiFi and cellular fading systems and test stations. We have customers using the attenuators in WiFi chipset test stations while others are used to simulate the handoff of WiFi signal between base stations and moving trains. Our four channel LDA-602Q attenuator is used in MIMO testing of 802.11ac routers while the LDA-906V and LDA-5018V are designed specifically for errorless attenuation transitions in high data rate systems such as 5G networks and high capacity wireless point to point backhaul networks.
The switch products are most commonly used in ATE stands. One of the more interesting applications of our RF switch products is a drone detection and tracking system.
The phase shifters are regularly used in the development of phased array antenna systems.
Q. Vaunix has expanded the categories of Test Equipment to support - Signal Generators, Attenuators, Switches, and Phase Shifters - What is next on the roadmap?
Here at Vaunix we are committed to the continuous evolution of our products to take advantage of new technologies and new business opportunities. Our recent additions of the LDA-906V and LDA-5018V high accuracy digital attenuators is an example of our products expanding to support high data rate systems. We also have short-term plans to add two new wideband signal generators, a higher frequency switch and another multiport attenuator to our portfolio. The signal generators will have even lower phase noise than our existing lines as well as frequency coverage beyond 30 GHz. The RF switch line will expand with a 20 GHz offering to be followed with a 30 GHz product. For the attenuators, we plan to build upon the technology in the LDA-906V and expand up to 8 channels (or more) in one box.
Q. What is your most popular test instrument category?
That’s actually a very difficult question. Our attenuators are very popular because of the performance, short lead times (typically in stock) and they are so simple to program. The standard signal generators are also quite popular and often lead to developing customized solutions.
Q. What Testing and Repair Services does Vaunix provide? Can you tell us more about these services?
The microwave radio test and repair business is what gave us our start over 13 years ago. We continue to expand our offerings in this area with repair capabilities for most point to point radio systems in both the licensed and unlicensed bands. We also service legacy switch matrix products, high-end Wi-Fi equipment, and amplifiers while offering build and test services for a variety of high tech equipment.
Q. Where do you want to see Vaunix 5 years from now?
Here at Vaunix, we are all about a slow and steady growth. We truly believe that a controlled growth allows us to maintain a superior level of quality while keeping our costs in check and providing a positive and stable working environment for our employees.
That said, we do continue to grow. In January of 2015, we nearly doubled the size of our facility when we invested in our own 7100 sq ft building in Newburyport, MA. We plan to slowly add to our employee count and invest in new technologies so that we can continue to offer an even wider variety of products and services. You can expect to see us push our products higher in frequency and expand beyond our traditional signal generators, digital attenuators, switches and phase shifters that we produce today.