Interview with Bill Drafts from MtronPTI

  • Bill Drafts - President at MtronPTI

everything RF recently interviewed Bill Drafts who is the President at MtronPTI. Bill has over thirty-five years of high technology development, design, sales, and operations experience. Previously, Bill was the Vice President, General Manager of Teledyne FLIR Systems, Inc., Imaging Division, a world leader in thermal imaging. Preceding FLIR, he was the Vice President, General Manager of Microsensor Systems, Inc., the world leader in surface acoustic wave (SAW) chemical sensors and instrumentation.

Q. Can you tell us more about MtronPTI?

Bill DraftsIn 1965, two companies named M-tron Industries, Inc. and Piezo Technologies Inc. (PTI) started separately. They joined together in 2004 and became one company called MtronPTI. MtronPTI is headquartered in Orlando, Florida, publicly traded (NYSE:MPTI) and has offices for design, sales, and manufacturing in North America, India, and Asia. MtronPTI creates RF components and solutions for the most demanding applications.  It's well-known for its filter and timing products and solutions and is a market leader. With an experienced team with over 700 years of RF experience and a successful 58-year history, MtronPTI can meet the needs of today's challenging applications.

Q. What products do you develop?

Bill DraftsMtronPTI provides a variety of precise solutions for frequency and spectrum control products. This includes RF filters, microwave, and millimeter wave filters, including cavity, crystal, planar, waveguide, ceramic, lumped element (LC), and switched filters. MtronPTI also manufactures high-performance OCXOs, high-frequency OCXOs, electronically vibration compensated OCXOs, integrated PLL OCXOs, TCXOs, VCXOs, XOs, low-jitter oscillators, Integrated Microwave Assemblies (IMA), and advanced solid-state power amplifiers.We are also one of the very few domestic manufacturers of high-precision, low-phase noise crystal resonators. 

Q. What market segments do you cater to? Which segment is the largest for you? Which segment is growing the fastest?

Bill DraftsMtronPTI offers solutions for various markets, including Aerospace and Defense, Avionics, Space, Instrumentation, and Industrial. In our largest segment, Aerospace and Defense, we provide solutions for electronic warfare, guided munitions, communications and radar applications. In our fastest-growing segment, Space, we provide products for both space-borne applications and terrestrial Satcom terminals. MtronPTI has developed advanced tools to meet the high-power requirements for Space applications, and we are one of the few companies in the United States with this capability. To keep up with the increasing demand from these sectors, MtronPTI has expanded its production capacity, installed new equipment, and hired additional resources.

Q. Can you tell us more about your filter product line?

Bill DraftsMtronPTI offers one of the industry's most extensive line of RF filters, including bandpass, low pass, high pass, band stop, diplexer, multiplexer, and switched filters. Our current filter technology portfolio includes Crystal, LC, Cavity, Ceramic, Waveguide, and Planar filters. Our filter products span from DC to 90 GHz and are designed to survive the harshest environments, from submarines to satellites and are offered in coaxial connectorized, surface mount, thru-hole, and waveguide packages.  

MtronPTI has a long history of industry firsts through its 58 years of innovating RF filters, employing a wide range of filter topologies and technologies.

Q. Mtron PTI manufactures a wide range of filters for space applications. What is unique/different about these products? How do you ensure that they operate as required in space? Can you tell us about the testing & qualification process you use?

Bill DraftsMtronPTI has achieved over 125 design wins across various satellite platforms and manned and unmanned platforms, including applications in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and Geostationary Orbit (GEO). From creating engineering design units to flight hardware, MtronPTI has a diverse team of professionals and a successful track record in meeting the rigorous requirements of space applications.

The company conducts all space-level testing internally, using the in-house capabilities outlined above.  Recently MtronPTI invested in a simulation tool called Spark3D™. This tool helps maximize the power handling capability under vacuum during the early stages of the design process.

Furthermore, MtronPTI has added an altitude (hypobaric) chamber to support the testing of high-power RF components and sub-assemblies. This chamber allows MtronPTI to power test its products under space flight conditions like extremely low pressures (vacuum) and specific temperatures. The incorporation of an altitude test chamber, combined with Spark3D simulations, maximizes the likelihood of mission success.

Q. Can you tell us about your solid-state power amplifier line? What made you enter this space?

Bill Drafts: MtronPTI introduced its Solid State Power Amplifier (SSHPA) product line in 2015. We design and manufacture these products in collaboration with our partner factory. These amplifiers are positioned next to filters, allowing customers to source multiple products and applications from the same supplier. The primary markets for these products are Instrumentation and Satellite Communications (Satcom). Our SSHPA products cover a broad frequency range from 10kHz to 51GHz.

The ruggedized product line includes Low Distortion Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor (LDMOS), Gallium Nitride (GaN) High Electron Mobility Transistor (HEMT), and Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) devices. We specialize in designing and fabricating low, medium, and high-power amplifiers using Chip and wire technology.

MtronPTI offers a wide range of stand-alone modules, integrated amplifier chassis configurations, and complete turn-key systems to meet the diverse needs of customers. These SSHPA products are fully integrated, capable of handling power from 5 to 100’s of watts, and support frequencies from Very High Frequency (VHF) to Ku band, ensuring reliable performance across various applications.

Q. MtronPTI develops components for Radars. Can you tell us more about the products that you develop for radars? What are the key requirements for components that will be used in radars?

Bill DraftsWe support Radar applications with both filter products and frequency control products. In radar applications, radio frequency (RF) filters play a crucial role in ensuring that the system operates effectively and reliably. The specific requirements for RF filters in radar applications can vary depending on the radar system's design, frequency band, and intended use. However, some key requirements are low insertion loss, high selectivity, high power handling, ruggedness, and reliability. It's important to note that specific radar systems may have unique requirements, and the choice of RF filters will depend on the system's overall design and specifications. Collaboration with RF design engineers and careful consideration of the application's needs is crucial in designing effective RF filters for radar systems. MtronPTI continues to push the boundaries of technology to deliver state-of-the-art solutions that enhance performance, reliability, and precision while minimizing size, weight, power, and cost.

When it comes to oscillators, lowest phase noise and lowest G-sensitivity are the two most important product parameters to maximize radar performance for airborne or seaborne applications. Our investment in developing best in class electronic vibration compensating technology allows us to support the toughest requirements in the radar market for applications that are mobile.

Q. Do you develop standard or custom products? What is the % break up? Can you tell us about the custom product development process?

Bill DraftsWe provide comprehensive support to the industry by offering a range of both standard and customized products. Within our frequency control portfolio, we offer a diverse selection of standard products encompassing OCXO, VCXO, TCXO, oscillators, and crystal resonators. For the filter products, our portfolio covers crystal, LC, cavity, ceramic, waveguide, and planar topologies to address various requirements. On our website we feature a product selection guide (FastFinder) designed to facilitate a seamless experience for our customers. This guide simplifies the product selection process, providing an easy and efficient means for customers to identify and choose the products that best suit their needs. The requirements of the markets we serve typically demand custom solutions therefore more than 80% of our product offerings are custom.

Upon receiving a Request for Quotation (RFQ) internally, our dedicated team of engineers meticulously reviews the specifications and essentially becomes an extension of our customer’s Engineering team. We engage in discussions to determine the most cost-effective approach that aligns with the given requirements and present this in a proposal that discusses tradeoffs, risks, and cost drivers. It brings us great pride to share that MtronPTI has garnered numerous compliments from customers for the quality and technical innovation of our proposals.

Q. What types of Integrated Microwave Assemblies do you develop? Can you tell us about a couple of Interesting IMAs you have developed?

Bill DraftsMtronPTI offers our customers a fully integrated, turnkey solution for their Multi-Functional Module (MFM) and Integrated Microwave Assembly (IMA) needs. Beginning in the design phase, we work to be an extension of our customer’s engineering team and not just a supplier. We work to understand all their requirements, rapidly developing solutions and concurrently working with manufacturing so that the solution is producible.  We have numerous quick-to-market tools in-house including a full CNC machine shop, a complete surface mount production line, numerous simulation and modelling software tools, several 3-D printers, rapid PCB manufacturing tools, photolithography, thick-film hybrid with active laser trimming, chip and wire, resistive welding, seam sealing and laser welding.  Additionally, MtronPTI has extensive in-house testing, including Gross/Fine Leak testing, Vibration, Shock, XRF, PIND, Life, Immersion, Humidity, Barometric Pressure, High Power in Vacuum Testing, Solderability, Dielectric Withstanding Voltage and Insulation Resistance testing. In-house testing is performed typically to MIL-STD-202 or MIL-STD-883 but can be adjusted to meet most custom requirements.  All our processes meet or exceed AS9100D and ISO9001:2015 requirements and we are certified annually.  

Designed for extreme Aerospace and Defense, Avionics as well as Commercial requirements, MtronPTI produces world-class MFMs and IMAs at our facilities spanning frequencies from 10MHz to 50GHz. We integrate multiple components into a single, compact package, forming a very complex RF assembly.  MtronPTI’s MFM and IMA design and development modeling uses the same circuit, electromagnetic, mechanical, thermal, and stress analysis tools as our customers.  This allows MtronPTI’s design synthesis to be effortlessly integrated into our customer’s system synthesis in the early stages of the development process.  This design collaboration essentially makes MtronPTI’s design team an extension of the customer’s design team and allows our customer’s resources to focus on their areas of expertise.  The result of having MtronPTI focus on the design concept, prototype development, and transition to full-rate production is a shortened design cycle and a faster time to market for our customer’s end product. 

Q. Who are your customers? Where are they located? What is a % break up in terms of geographic region?

Bill DraftsOur main customers come from the Aerospace and Defense, Space, Avionics, and Instrumentation industries. Some notable customers include Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BAE, Honeywell, General Dynamics, L3Harris, Keysight, Thales, Boeing, Teledyne, Ciena, and others. These customers have their design centers mainly in the United States and Europe.

Q. What are the highlights for MtronPTI in 2023? What is your product roadmap for the next three years?

Bill DraftsSince 1965, MtronPTI has had a legacy of innovation, and that relentless technical curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit persist to this day. Our array of radio and microwave frequency devices and solutions caters to diverse markets and applications, many of which are aligned with secular growth trends. This ongoing growth fuels our commitment to innovation, the expansion of our product line, and the continuous development of new, innovative solutions that challenge the boundaries of physics.  We are witnessing an expansion in our customer base and a simultaneous increase in market share among our existing blue-chip clients.  Our unwavering focus revolves around enhancing all facets of our operations, elevating yields, and curbing costs.  These endeavors collectively contribute to our goal: delivering consistent cash flow and ensuring a return of capital to shareholders, all while reinvesting in the ongoing growth of the business. In 2023, our financial performance serves as a reflection of these initiatives.

We continue to push the limits of the technology, continuously releasing new products and solutions. Our focus is on higher frequency, higher power devices, and assemblies in smaller packages with lower insertion loss and lower phase noise, both static and dynamic. Over the last five years, we have averaged 260 new product launches annually, resulting in 28.3% of our annual revenue coming from these new innovations. We are investing in product packaging, crystal resonator processing, new process capabilities, and faster-to-market design tools. With a legacy of innovation spanning several decades, MtronPTI continues to be a trusted partner for organizations seeking reliable, high-performance products and solutions.