Have you ever looked at a Rogers Corporation data sheet and asked yourself why there are two types of dielectric constants? What is the difference between Design Dk and Process Dk? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, Coonrod’s CORNER video, “What is Design DK” will help clarify.
A message from Bruce Hoechner, CEO, Rogers Corporation:
Read the corporate financials news release: Rogers Corporation Reports 2013 Fourth Quarter and Year-End Results
I’m very pleased to share with you today Rogers’ fourth-quarter results. Our transformational initiatives, which began about two years ago, are clearly delivering meaningful outcomes. Our strong focus on technology innovations to benefit our customers, as well as our emphasis on operational performance and cost management, have helped us build what we believe is a sustainable advantage.
We finished the year well, with fourth-quarter revenues of $136.2 million, an increase of 9.7% over Q4 2012, which exceeded our guidance. For the full year of 2013, Rogers’ revenues were $537.5 million, up 7.8% versus 2012 full-year results. Globally, we benefited from improving market conditions, propelled by growing demand for clean energy, Internet connectivity, and safety and protection applications. Higher sales, combined with rigorous cost management discipline, enabled us to complete the fourth quarter ahead of earnings guidance as well. Earnings per share for the quarter were up 40%, net of special charges, compared to Q4 of 2012.
Overall, it was another very good quarter for Rogers. We are pleased and encouraged by our ability to execute well on our strategies, which enabled us to deliver strong results.
For the third quarter, 61% of our sales fell into our strategic megatrend categories, as our focus on solving materials challenges in support of global megatrends continues to drive our growth. In Clean Energy category, sales were up 40% over Q4 of 2012, with growth across all major segments, including power modules for variable frequency motor drives, hybrid electric vehicles, and solar applications.
In support of the growing global demand for Internet connectivity, we achieved 11% growth in revenues for the category. The market for 4G LTE base station deployment continues to be very active, especially in China. Once again, growth in new applications enabling wireless connectivity for mobile Internet devices also helped boost demand for Rogers’ high-frequency printed circuit materials.
In Mass Transit, revenues were essentially flat compared to the fourth quarter of last year, as some programs for interior applications ramped down, offsetting growth in rolling busbars for rail traction power distribution. This market is typically program-driven and subject to fluctuations.
Demand for radar-based automotive safety systems continues to drive growth for Rogers’ printed circuit materials. As the benefits of these systems in reducing fatal car crashes becomes increasingly evident, we expect consumer demand and governmental safety initiatives to continue to spur adoption of these systems around the world.
Our Printed Circuit Materials business delivered record sales for the quarter and overall record sales for the year. Sales were up 26% for the quarter over Q4 of 2012, and up 14% year-over-year, as momentum continued in the 4G LTE wireless infrastructure market, applications enabling wireless connectivity for mobile Internet devices, and the automotive safety sensors that we just discussed.
In Power Electronic Solutions, we delivered another strong quarter, with revenues up 24% versus the fourth quarter of last year, as demand surged across all of our major clean energy application areas. As stated in our earnings release, we have restructured this business to better align with our markets and streamlined management.
Going forward, we will manage and report Power Electronic Solutions as one core strategic segment that is comprised of two main product lines — Curamik direct-bonded copper substrates and RO-LINX power distribution systems products. This change supports a solutions approach to power electronics that we have adopted in this business.
High Performance Foams revenues were down 13% versus fourth quarter of 2012. Despite growth in many of its segments, the business reported year-over-year sales decline, due largely to changes in applications from mobile Internet devices, including changes in tablet device design, a shift to smaller tablets, and better production utilization at our customers, which resulted in a lower amount of total foam content in those devices. On the positive side, volume was up for the quarter in cushioning and ceiling applications for consumer electronics and hybrid electric vehicles, as well as advanced sport impact protection.
Investing in Innovation
We continue to build a market-driven culture across Rogers that is solutions-oriented, growth-focused and propelled by innovation excellence. Our investments in technology innovation continue. In the fourth quarter of 2013, we moved some of our Corporate Research and Business Development teams to the new Rogers Innovation Center located in Burlington, Massachusetts. Our innovation center is co-located with Northeastern University, enabling us to expand our collaboration with them, as well as other leading universities, on novel technologies that we believe will provide exciting business opportunities for Rogers.
For nearer-term opportunities, we continue to closely collaborate with our customers to build a high-quality pipeline of opportunities. At the end of the fourth quarter in our targeted megatrend categories of Clean Energy, Internet connectivity, and mass transit, we were tracking a cumulative total of 722 major design opportunities. Over 300 advanced to design-in phase of the selling process, and we moved 84 megatrend opportunities from design into production. The key message here is that we have a robust sales pipeline that we continue to refill, as we convert these projects into sales.
“Go directly to the seat of knowledge.” – Marcus Aurelius
Today we continue the conversation “Engineers Make a Difference” to celebrate the National Engineers Week. Our next topic is about mentorship and its role in long-term career success. Join the discussion and share your experiences!
How did the most successful people get to where they are today? Often times, we have this romantic image of a scrappy young person picking themselves up by their bootstraps and making their own way in the world. The fact of the matter is, most of these stories are greatly exaggerated. Sure, you could learn plenty on your own through books and your own practice, but that kind of unfocused, broad approach could take years and years before there is any pay off.
Why Have/Be A Mentor?
What the most successful practitioners of any field have in common is that they all had mentors. A mentor streamlines the learning process, giving you practical knowledge and ways of thinking that they have developed while they learned from their own mentors. Their knowledge becomes yours, and they can steer you away from unnecessary mistakes while giving you real-time feedback and advice on what you do.
In engineering, this dynamic and educational model may be more valuable than almost any other way of learning. Let’s face it, engineering is difficult and intimidating for a lot of young people. Many students don’t even know what it is that an engineer does and that turns them away from the field. This is a problem in a time where more and more talented, trained engineers are needed to meet the demand in growing fields such as healthcare, technology, military, etc.
Experienced engineers must take the helm and steer talented young students into these fields and give them the guidance they need to be successful. Some companies have already taken the lead on this front. Rogers Corporation, for example, is reinstating its program where high school students with an interest in engineering can go behind the scenes and shadow a Rogers engineer, getting valuable, up-close experience and insight that could never be gained in a classroom.
Another valuable resource is STEM Connector’s National Mentoring Month throughout January 2014. STEM Connector links students and their parents to organizations all around the country devoted to fostering interest and excellence in STEM fields.
The theme for this year’s Discover E is making a difference. Before students will have the desire to study such a challenging field, they have to know what it is they are striving for. More than the technical stuff, a mentor needs to show the student how their work can make a difference in the world and improve the lives of everyone in society. This motivation is the key to bringing up the next generation of engineers.
By Rogers HR Department
National Engineers Week, held every February, is a week-long celebration of the engineering profession and its importance in our society. While this year’s National Engineers Week has taken on a new name, DiscoverE, the mission and spirit of the celebration remains the same: to acknowledge the accomplishments of engineers while encouraging and bringing along the next generation of professionals to carry the torch.
This year, DiscoverE is about making a difference. As we join the celebration, it is important to consider what the current generation of engineers can do to foster and develop the next generation of engineers. But first, what does it mean to make a difference? While everyone has their own idea of what it means, many would agree that it means improving the lives of other people in some way.
National Engineers Week is a time for parents, educators, and professionals to make a difference by sharing their knowledge, passion, and accomplishments with their children and students. All children are born curious about the world around them. But for a number of reasons, their curiosity is weakened as they get older. It’s our responsibility to keep that sense of wonder alive and help transform it from passive curiosity to active engagement and learning.
The difference we want to make is in inspiring young people to study engineering with the purpose of making their own difference in their communities and even the world. It’s no secret that rapid technological advancement along with an increasingly globalized community demands a workforce that is stocked with talent capable of understanding human society and all of its processes.
When we consider the things that most impact our daily lives, we think of things like technology, transportation, medicine, business, the environment, entertainment, and so on. At the heart of each of these fields are the engineers. They are the creators and the innovators, the ones who constantly ask, “How can this be better for people?” and set out to make that vision a reality. Everything from life-saving medicines, to clean energy, to public transportation, to special effects in movies comes about because of someone with an engineering background.
Experienced engineers, as well as parents and teachers have a responsibility to prepare and inspire students to be able to tackle the great challenges that await our world. The difference we make in the lives of our children and students by encouraging their curiosity and creativity will be amplified a hundred times over by the difference they could make when they apply all they’ve learned to the problems and challenges that they face. The ability to make sense of a complex world is what will give children a chance to thrive as adults.
While the spirit and mission of DiscoverE Engineers Week is to rear the next generation of engineers, we know that this task can’t be carried out within just one week. Our commitment to young, potential engineers is a year round obligation.
During the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing a series of posts featuring inspirational stories from engineers, tips for how to get kids interested and involved, and the importance of personal and professional mentors. We hope you will join us and contribute to the discussion as we celebrate this year’s Engineers Week!
Passive intermodulation (PIM) is the unwanted mixing of two or more signals in a passive circuit or component, resulting in unwanted spurious or harmonic signals. These additional signals can clutter a system’s operating passband and cause interference in a system’s receive band. Although PIM is often associated with certain high-frequency passive components within a system, such as connectors, cables, filters, and couplers, it can start with the printed-circuit-board (PCB) materials, in particular when those materials are used for components critical to communications systems, such as PCB-based antennas and filters. For applications where PIM can be a concern, circuit materials should be selected not only for their desired electrical and mechanical performance levels but for minimal generation of PIM across all the operating conditions of those applications.
PIM is caused by the nonlinear mixing of multiple signals, where unwanted signals are produced as harmonics or as sums and/or differences of the fundamental frequencies of the mixing signals. PIM can stem from poor mechanical junctions between high-frequency passive components, such as connector interfaces and poor solder joints, but can also result from material characteristics, such as the composition of a PCB’s dielectric material or the blend of metals in a PCB’s conductive layer. For example, ferromagnetic materials, such a nickel and steel, are notorious for their capabilities in generating nonlinear responses as reactions to electromagnetic (EM) fields. Nickel, which is often used as a barrier layer in PCBs between copper conductors and gold finish, must be avoided in any circuit where PIM is a concern. The interfaces of a PCB’s material components, such as the interface of a PCB’s dielectric and conductive layers, can also give rise to PIM at levels sufficient to cause interference, for example, in a sensitive receiver.
Careful choice of PCB materials can contribute to minimizing PIM levels, which are typically evaluated at a decibel level relative to a carrier (dBc). Levels of -145 dBc and further below the carrier (more negative) are considered good PIM levels for many communications applications. Of course, a large part of performing a meaningful evaluation of different PCB materials for their PIM performance involves proper maintenance of test fixtures and measurement equipment. Because PIM level are typically low in amplitude, nothing in a test setup can artificially improve a material’s or component’s PIM performance, only degrade it. Something as simple as debris in the connector mating interface area can contribute to the measurement of degraded PIM performance in a test setup. When evaluating components or PCB materials for PIM performance, measurement system maintenance is essential.
PTFE circuit materials have typically been a first choice for passive components such as antennas and filters where PIM performance was critical. But compared to other high-frequency circuit materials, PTFE tends to be expensive, and can require some special handling during circuit fabrication. Fortunately, newer, non-PTFE-based PCB materials have been shown to provide PIM performance that is as good or better than the PIM performance levels possible with PTFE-based materials.
For example, several non-PTFE materials from Rogers Corp., RO4725JXRTM and RO4730JXRTMcircuit materials, have consistently exhibited PIM performance levels of -164 dBc or better when used as a starting point for PCB antennas. Unlike the special treatments required for processing PTFE-based materials, circuit fabrication with these two materials is very much like processing standard PCB materials. The RO4725JXR and RO4730JXR circuit materials exhibit low dielectric-constant (Dk) values, of about 2.55 and 3.00 in the material z axis at 10 GHz, respectively, that make them attractive for many RF/microwave applications.
PIM performance may be important for a PCB antenna, but it may also be affected by other material parameters, such as the temperature coefficient of dielectric constant (TCDk). This parameter, which is a measure of changes in Dk with temperature, is typically high for PTFE-based circuit materials. Ideally, for outdoor applications, the TCDk should be as low as possible to minimize shifts in Dk value with temperature, which may or may not impact the PIM performance.
As evidenced by their TCDk values, the RO4725JXR and RO4730JXR materials provide Dk values that are extremely stable with environments of changing temperature. They feature TCDk values of +34 and +32 ppm/°C, respectively, for the RO4725JXR and RO4730JXR circuit materials, indicating that electrical performance should remain stable over a wide range of temperatures, with minimal effect on PIM performance. This stability is related to good TCDk properties only. Dk variations, which are possible for a thermoset material exposed to elevated temperatures over a long period of time, are not addressed in this blog.
Fortunately, the low PIM levels possible with these two non-PTFE materials are achieved without sacrificing electrical or mechanical performance. The RO4725JXR and RO4730JXR laminates have been formulated as antenna-grade PCB materials, capable of low insertion loss and low loss tangents of 0.0022 measured at 2.5 GHz and 0.0027 or less measured at 10 GHz and room temperature. These are “environmentally friendly” halogen-free materials, RoHS compliant and compatible with high-temperature lead-free processing.
The non-PTFE materials incorporate specially formulated thermoset resins and unique fillers consisting of closed microspheres which contribute to light weight and low density along with the low PIM characteristics. In fact, these laminates are typically about 30% lighter in weight than PCB materials based on PTFE/glass combinations. The RO4700JXR laminates have been formulated for excellent mechanical stability. They feature a low Z-axis coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of better than 30 ppm/°C for design flexibility, with CTE of typically 25.6 ppm/°C in the z-axis for RO4725JXR laminates and 21.1 ppm/°C in the z-axis for RO4730JXR laminates, when measured from -55 to +288°C for both materials.
Whether for base-station or other wireless antennas, or for other passive components, such as couplers and filters, for which PIM must be held to a minimum to ensure that the highest quality of voice, data, and video communications is maintained in a system, the choice of PCB material can greatly determine the final level of PIM achieved no matter how careful the circuit design. When other factors are considered, such as outdoor operating temperature range, it is clear to see that achieving a target PIM level in a wireless communications system starts with specifying low-noise PCB materials that have been formulated for that type of performance.
Do you have a design or fabrication question? John Coonrod and Joe Davis are available to help. Log in to the Rogers Technology Support Hub and “Ask an Engineer” today.