Interview with Chris Dugan from Knowles Precision Devices

  • Chris Dugan - President at Knowles Precision Devices

everything RF recently interviewed Chris Dugan who is the President at Knowles Precision Devices. In this role, he holds the responsibility for both the Knowles Timing and Capacitor businesses. Chris most recently served as president, Americas for Bridon Corporation. Prior to Bridon, Chris held general management, commercial management, and M&A roles with Cooper Industries and Carrier Corporation.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of Knowles Precision Devices?

Chris DuganKnowles Precision Devices is a division of the nearly 80-year-old Knowles Corporation. The Precision Devices division officially formed in 2014 by bringing together the resources and technology from four strategic acquisitions made across the prior three decades – Dielectric Laboratories (DLI), Novacap, Syfer, and Voltronics. Since then, Knowles Precision Devices has grown to also include the technology and expertise of Johanson Manufacturing, Compex, and Integrated Microwave Corporation (IMC).

Q. Please tell us more about your product portfolio.

Chris DuganWe are a specialty components manufacturer, which means we choose to take on the complex challenges that come with developing solutions that must meet requirements for high-reliability, high-temperatures, high-performance, and high-frequencies. We use our materials science knowledge to engineer a wide-variety of specialty components including multilayer ceramic, single-layer, high-reliability, and precision variable capacitors; EMI Filters; and microwave devices such as RF filters, splitters, and couplers.

Q. What are the main market segments you cater to? 

Chris DuganOur components are essential parts used in a variety of applications throughout the aerospace and defense, medical, power electronics, and electric vehicle (EV) markets as well as in new and emerging applications in the industrial space such as those required for renewable energy.

Q. Knowles Precision Devices makes a wide variety of capacitors. Can you tell us more about this product line, particularly the MLCCs and their applications?

Chris DuganWhile there are many ways to look at the wide variety of capacitors we produce, something unique about Knowles Precision Devices is that one of our core competencies is in materials science, particularly ceramics. Therefore, we make a range of multilayer ceramic capacitors (MLCCs) using both X7R and C0G dielectric formulations. Our X7R MLCCs are a great fit for lower frequency ranges in circuits that require high capacitance but can allow for a certain amount of derating such as energy storage, smoothing, and EMI filtering. Our C0G MLCCs are an excellent option for lower capacitance, high-frequency RF devices and other applications that require precision circuity and high reliability. 

Beyond these two dielectrics, we’ve also developed our own custom ceramic known as Hiteca™. MLCCs designed using Hiteca deliver low losses while offering high, stable capacitance up to maximum voltage and temperature. This combination is generally a perfect fit for the MLCCs required for power electronics used in high-temperature environments such as EVs and industrial applications.

Q. Developing RF solutions for mission-critical applications like SATCOM and military can be challenging. What testing and screening methodologies are used by Knowles Precision Devices for such applications and what are some challenges that occur?

Chris DuganWhen launching expensive mission-critical equipment and people into space, there is absolutely no room for failure. However, one big change we’ve recently seen is that not everything going into space these days is mission critical. This means the level of testing and screening performed on components must be symmetrical with the mission of the end device. For example, the level of reliability required for a multi-million-dollar system being sent to Mars is quite different than what is necessary for a low-cost new space satellite being put into low-Earth orbit.

Understanding this nuance is one of the biggest challenges we see customers in this industry facing as historically, every component used in a space application was tested and screened with rigor. Since not every space application requires this same level of testing and screening now, there are infinite possibilities for qualifying a part for a space application. These possibilities need to be carefully considered because you can waste a lot of time and money over-testing parts now.  While we can perform testing and screening to any MIL-SPEC our customers require, the real value we bring is in developing an understanding of the customer’s base mission and then working with the customer to determine the appropriate level of testing and screening needed without overdoing it.

Q. Can you tell us about the different types of RF filters that Knowles manufactures? What technologies do you use? Are there any specific applications for which you develop filters?

Chris DuganWe make a wide range of filters, from 300 MHz to 75 GHz in bandpass, lowpass, highpass, and bandstop configurations. Whether a customer needs a catalog part, a build-to-print solution, or a custom build, we are prepared to take on the complex challenges of implementing high-performance filters across the widest range of specifications. Today, a variety of land, sea, air and space navigation, communication, and detection systems rely on the superior technology and performance of our filters.

Q. Can you tell us more about your EMI and 5G Filter Product Line? Which bands do you design your 5G filter for? 

Chris DuganWe address the challenges of implementing high-performance filters at mmWave frequencies with off-the-shelf catalog designs in the FR2 band and our custom design services. For example, our 26GHz, 28GHz, and 39GHz catalog filters provide 3GHz of bandwidth, greater than 50dB rejection, are 20x smaller than current alternatives while implemented in surface mount packages for standard tune-free assembly, and temperature stable operation from -55°C to +125°C. 

Our EMI filters are designed for the opposite end of the frequency spectrum. We offer a variety of EMI filters depending on the job that needs to be done – from noise filtering in an EV application to a planar array that needs to go into a sophisticated filter connector to support a complex assembly in a jet engine. This range includes relatively simple chip capacitor EMI filters, sophisticated panel mount EMI filters, and complex planar arrays for filter connectors. 

Q. Apart from capacitors and filter solutions, Knowles precision devices also has its own line of Microwave couplers. Is this an important segment for you? Can you tell us more about it?

Chris DuganAt the core of everything we do lies our ceramics expertise. This technical core allows us to make a complete microwave toolkit, which includes microwave couplers. We’ve developed numerous custom couplers for customers over the years, which became the basis for our catalog parts. Our couplers a unique as these components tend to cover wider bandwidths and higher frequencies compared to alternatives. Plus, our custom ceramics allow us to make these components quite small. 

Q. Do you develop both standard and custom products? 

Chris DuganYes, we offer numerous catalog parts along with build-to-print and custom component design services. Since we are not trying to be your typical commodity component manufacturer, we are ready to help our customers solve even their most difficult engineering challenges by working with them in the exact way they need.  

Q. What does Knowles's geographic distribution of customers look like? Who are some of your customers?

Chris DuganWe are a global company, and as such, we have customers located all over the world. We serve top tier companies as well as small organizations and start-ups across many different verticals such as aerospace and defense, medical, power electronics, EV, and new and emerging applications in the industrial space. What’s perhaps more impressive then the geographic distribution of our customers though is where you will find our components operating – from 8,000 feet below the Earth’s surface to 34 million+ miles away on Mars and beyond.

Q. Can you give your view on the upcoming market trends for RF components and capacitors in 2023?

Chris DuganLet’s start with trends impacting RF components this year. Since bandwidth is tied directly to data throughput rates, and we constantly need to move more data faster, there is a perennial need for components that can support increased bandwidth. This means the development of high-throughput satellites for a variety of consumer and defense communication applications is increasing and these devices need the type of high-frequency and high-bandwidth RF components we excel at developing. 

Additionally, the United States and many NATO countries are now expanding their investment in radar and electronic warfare technologies and we are seeing increased design activity, especially from European customers, this year. We are well prepared to meet these demands with our custom design capabilities for both the microwave devices and capacitors needed for these applications.

More specifically for capacitors, we are very interested right now in the role of power electronics in renewable energy and EV applications. One key to unlocking the potential of renewables is unfolding now – developing very efficient semiconductors with wide-bandgap (WBG) materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN). As the shift to using these WBG material-based semiconductors continues, other board-level components, such as capacitors, must change as well. For example, as systems operate at higher frequencies, the capacitance needed decreases, leading to many instances where film capacitors can be replaced by ceramic capacitors – our specialty. 

For EVs, we are seeing increased demand for high-performance capacitors for in-vehicle applications beyond the drivetrain, such as heating and cooling systems, as well as outside the vehicle as the need for more charging infrastructure rapidly grows. This includes innovations in wireless charging and bi-directional charging systems as well. With our advancements in materials and manufacturing R&D and our continued investment in MLCC design innovation, we are ready to meet the needs of this rapidly evolving industry as well.

Q. Knowles has recently acquired Integrated Microwave Corporation (IMC). What made you acquire them and where does this fit into your product portfolio? Are there any synergies?

Chris DuganIn 2021, we acquired Integrated Microwave Corporation (IMC) because we saw this company as a leader in the design and manufacture of custom precision RF microwave filters and multiplexers for the aerospace, defense, and communications industries. This acquisition was a strategic decision that allows us to now offer a complete range of RF and microwave filtering solutions that support applications from the VHF to the Ka band. In addition to the small, temperature-stable filters our customers have come to know us for, we can now deliver ceramic and cavity filters for lower frequency and/or higher power applications.

About the Author:

Chris Dugan joined Knowles as the president of Precision Devices in May 2016. In this role, Chris holds the responsibility for both the Knowles Timing and Capacitor businesses.

Chris most recently served as president, Americas for Bridon Corporation. Prior to Bridon, Chris held general management, commercial management, and M&A roles with Cooper Industries and Carrier Corporation. He also worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. Chris holds a BA from the University of Rochester and was a NCAA All-American swimmer. Following graduation, he served as a Navy SEAL officer in the Navy's most selective operational unit. Chris also received his MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.