Same great service, great new name! Rogers Corp.’s Advanced Circuit Materials division has changed its name to Advanced Connectivity Solutions (ACS). This name change reflects expansion of potential areas of business beyond existing material sets into new areas of RF/Microwave and Digital connectivity.
According to Jeff Grudzien, Vice President of ACS, “Looking at our product innovation and technical support strengths in the microwave and digital communication industries, you can see how our business unit name could start to box us in from reaching our full potential. Although the name ‘Advanced Circuit Materials Division’ served us very well to get us to this point, it was time to change the name to one that helps us pave the way for future growth and expansion. As a result, I’m happy to announce that we are changing our division name to ’Advanced Connectivity Solutions.’”
The recent acquisition of Arlon, LLC in January 2015 was a major step in this evolution. Through this acquisition, Rogers is able to bring a broader portfolio of problem solving solutions to its global customers. In addition to popular printed circuit materials such as AD300C™, and CLTE™ laminates, the Rogers portfolio now also includes the 91ML and 92ML Thermally Conductive Substrates for effective heat dissipation in mobile internet devices and consumer appliances.
Power amplifier design at RF/microwave frequencies can be aided by a wise choice of active devices, such as discrete transistors or monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs). But don’t overlook the importance of the printed-circuit-board (PCB) material when planning for a solid-state power amplifier (PA) circuit. The circuit material can help or hurt a PA design, and knowing what is important in a PCB material intended for a PA is the first step in selecting a circuit material that enhances the PA’s performance. Plain and simple, a suitable PA circuit material should support excellent RF/microwave performance, be consistent over time and temperature, and be capable of conducting heat away from a PA’s active devices.
Ideally, a circuit material for a solid-state PA should be a foundation for transmission lines that form the impedances needed to match to the input and output ports of those active devices and optimize the gain and power achieved for high-frequency signals into and out of those devices. A circuit material’s dielectric constant (Dk) is usually a good starting point for PA designers in search of a suitable PCB material for their PA design, not so much for a particular Dk value but for a material with minimal variations in Dk value, across the material and across a required temperature range. PA circuits generate power but they are not 100% efficient, so they generate heat as well, and those changing temperatures can impact a circuit material’s Dk value and consequently, the impedances of the matching circuits to and from a PA’s active devices.
For stable transmission-line impedances in PA circuits, PA designers have traditionally sought PCB materials not so much with a particular Dk value, but with a Dk value that is tightly controlled across the material. Commercial circuit materials can exhibit different ranges in their Dk variations, but a good target Dk deviation specification is ±1.5% or better at a desired Dk value. This consistency will help to achieve the consistent impedance values needed to extract the highest levels of output power from an active device or devices on a PCB-mounted PA.
Perhaps even more important than Dk consistency, however, is the consistency of a PCB material’s thickness, or its substrate thickness tolerance. As with variations in Dk, variations in a PCB material’s thickness will result in variations in transmission-line impedance. This will mean inconsistent PA performance that is not as predicted by design calculations or by a commercial computer-aided-engineering (CAE) design program. Specifying a PCB material with consistent thickness tolerance will enable tight control of the impedance of the transmission lines and other circuit structures fabricated on the material, and consistent and predictable performance for a PA built on that circuit material. Although the thickness tolerances for commercial PCB materials varies widely across the industry, a value of ±10% or better can help maintain consistent impedance in a PA’s transmission lines and matching circuits.
The thickness of the PCB material, whether it is a relatively thin or a relatively thick circuit material, can also play a part in maintaining consistent impedance in a PA’s matching circuits. Variations in copper conductor width and thickness, for example, translate into variations in impedance. Those conductor width and thickness variations have more of an effect on impedance for thinner circuit materials than for thicker circuit materials. But thicker PCB materials can impact a PA design in other ways, since the thicker materials may suffer greater radiation loss than thinner circuit materials.
For both low-noise amplifiers (LNAs) and PAs, it helps to fabricate the circuits on PCB materials with low insertion loss. A PCB’s insertion loss can have a number of different loss components, such as conductor loss, dielectric loss, radiation loss, and leakage loss. Conductor losses, for example, are a larger part of the total PCB insertion loss in thinner circuits while dielectric losses are more of a dominant part of the total PCB insertion loss in thicker circuits.
The dielectric losses of thicker PCB materials can be minimized by selecting thicker circuit materials with lower dissipation factors.
Other circuit parameters, such as the surface roughness of the copper conductor, can contribute to higher losses from rougher surfaces. Copper surface roughness will have a greater impact on insertion loss for thinner circuit materials than for thicker circuit materials. Conductor losses from this source can be minimized by using a PCB material with a smoother copper conductor. The search for a low-loss circuit material for a PA (or an LNA) involves weighing the impacts of such parameters as conductor thickness and dielectric thickness on the different loss components and achieving a workable balance with acceptable loss performance.
Of course, given their tendencies to generate heat, solid-state PAs should be constructed on circuit materials with suitable thermal characteristics, including good thermal conductivity, coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE), and temperature coefficient of dielectric constant (TCDk). High thermal conductivity will support the flow of heat away from a PAs active devices and towards a heat sink or other heat-dissipating structure. Good TCDk will minimize variations in Dk (and transmission-line impedance) with temperature, which can degrade a PA’s performance as it heats up at higher power levels.
Considering these various material characteristics, what is a commercial material that can meet the different requirements for a PA? RO4835™ circuit material from Rogers Corp. has a Dk of 3.48 in the z-axis (thickness) at 10 GHz. The Dk is maintained to a tolerance of ±0.05 across the material for consistent transmission-line impedance. RO4835 laminates maintain stable Dk with temperature, with a TCDk of +50 ppm/°C in the z-axis (thickness) over a wide range of processing temperatures from -100 to +250°C. The circuit material has high thermal conductivity (0.66 W/m/K) and can handle and help dissipate the heat produced by a solid-state PA’s active devices. RO4835 laminate has low dielectric loss, with dissipation factor of 0.0037 in the z axis at 10 GHz to minimize the generation of heat from active devices subject to high material loss. The material is RoHS compliant and compatible with standard FR-4 circuit manufacturing processes.
But this is just one example of a PCB material that is formulated for successful high-frequency PA applications. A short list of guidelines that can be applied when comparing different candidate materials would include finding a circuit material with tight substrate thickness tolerance, tight Dk tolerance, low insertion loss (low dissipation factor), high thermal conductivity, and low TCDk. Keeping a tight tolerance of the copper conductor plating thickness and a tight copper conductor width tolerance can help control conductor losses and conductor-based impedance variations, respectively, for better PA performance.
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Join us at the IEEE International Microwave Symposium, May 19-21, 2015, at the Phoenix Convention Center, Phoenix, AZ. We’ll be in booth # 3640 demonstrating our newest PCB materials for microwave applications.
Also attend John Coonrod’s Microwave Application Seminars (MicroApps) presentations:
• Tues, May 19, 2:00pm: “Microwave PCB Structure Selection: Microstrip vs Grounded Coplanar Waveguide”
• Wed, May 20, 1:45pm: “PCB Fabrication Influences on Microwave Performance”
A message from Bruce Hoechner, CEO, Rogers Corporation:
Read the corporate financials news release: Rogers Corporation Reports Strong Earnings and All-time Record Quarterly Sales for the First Quarter of 2015.
In Q1 2015, Rogers Corp. achieved substantial growth in earnings, delivering $0.94 per diluted share, excluding discrete acquisition-related impacts and charges up 19% versus Q1 2014 on net sales of $165.1M, an increase of 12.6% over Q1 2014.
Bolstered by the added revenue from Arlon, Rogers achieved another quarter of record net sales.
We attribute this success to our continued focus on the vital elements of our growth strategy: Market-Driven, Technology Innovation, Synergistic M&A, and Operational Excellence. We believe this approach, along with the positive outlook in a number of our megatrend markets, will help us continue to drive robust revenue and profit performance into the future.
Roadmap for Consistent, Profitable Growth
We take a market-driven approach across the company, where the term “outside-in” has become part of our daily lexicon. For example, we continually evaluate attractive growth opportunities in the market. As we stated in our Q4-2014 earnings call, we are directing increased attention to Safety and Protection as a key megatrend focus for Rogers, due to the growth we have experienced in worldwide demand for innovative solutions for consumer safety and protection. We will continue to focus on the Internet Connectivity and Clean Energy megatrends, as well. Mass transit remains strategically important and will be realigned primarily within our Clean Energy and Safety and Protection megatrend categories. I will discuss more about these changes later.
Since 2012, we have increased our investment in technology innovation. We introduced six new products in 2014 and the teams at the Rogers Innovation Center and divisional R&D are continuing to build a strong pipeline of opportunities in line with our expectations. We are very pleased with the progress to date and we are now moving ahead on plans to expand the Innovation Center model into our Asia Region.
We are very encouraged with our progress in synergistic M&A and the Arlon acquisition. Three months into the integration, it’s clear that Arlon is an excellent fit with our PCM and HPF business segments, and we are very enthusiastic about the talent and passion our new colleagues bring to Rogers. We are also getting positive feedback from customers, several of whom have expressed interest in our ability to develop new materials as a result of the acquisition. We have finalized and implemented the new organizational structure and the combined business teams are now focusing on driving top-line growth. We remain on target to our goal of completing the integration by the end of 2015.
We are also excited about our progress within the final element of our strategy – operational excellence. Over the past two years, we have deepened our focus on our processes and systems to increase efficiency while reducing costs. Shortly, I will speak more about yield improvements, throughput increases and investments in new technology that are helping us avoid costs and improve on-time delivery. As I travel to our global locations in the U.S., Asia and Europe, I meet with employees across all three business segments who are highly engaged in driving process and system improvements, and striving for operational excellence.
We are a growth company and we have strong confidence in our three-year goal of 15% combined organic and acquired growth. Some years, this will be driven primarily from organic growth and other years will come through acquisitions.
Q1 Operating Highlights
As previously mentioned, we achieved net sales of $165.1M, an increase of 12.6%, and delivered strong earnings with non-GAAP EPS of $.94 per diluted share, which is a 19% increase over last year. On a currency-adjusted basis, we delivered organic sales growth of 3.2% over Q1 2014, with Arlon contributing $20.2M of net sales and earnings of $0.17 per diluted shares in the quarter. Fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates since the first quarter of 2014 unfavorably impacted sales of legacy Rogers businesses by $6.5M, or 4.3%. David will review both of these items in greater detail later in the call.
Our operational focus contributed to solid margin improvement, with non-GAAP gross margin of 38.8%, which is an increase of 200 basis points over Q1 2014, and non-GAAP operating margin of 15.8%, up 120 basis points over Q1 2014. We expect to see continued margin strength from our ongoing commitment to process and system improvements.
Printed Circuit Materials (or PCM) achieved net sales of $71.3M, including $10.5M from Arlon, which is an increase of 21.8% over Q1 2014. We continue to see substantial demand for high frequency circuit materials for wireless infrastructure (up 25%), automotive safety radar applications for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (up 43%), and aerospace and defense applications (up 47%). This strong growth offset lower demand in mobile internet device wireless antenna applications (down 62%) due to higher than expected inventory levels in the supply chain. We are expecting this market to rebound in the second half of 2015.
While keeping pace with unprecedented demand, the PCM teams are also helping drive operational improvements to enhance profitability. In order to increase capacity and meet market demand, PCM has delivered significant yield and productivity improvements across our three global manufacturing facilities. In addition, we have installed a new treater and a new lamination press in China.
Looking ahead in PCM, we believe we will see continued strong demand for wireless infrastructure applications to support the 4G/LTE build-out in China, where all three telecom operators plan to build a combined 800,000 mobile broadband base stations in 2015. We are also starting to see 4G/LTE demand growing in markets beyond China, such as India, Japan, and Europe. In addition, strong consumer demand is helping to drive growth in automotive Advance Driver Assistance Systems as mid-range cars adopt features that were previously only available in luxury cars.
In Q1, our High Performance Foams (or HPF) segment achieved net sales of $44.6M, including $5.2M from Arlon, which is an increase of 8.1% over Q1 2014. Weaker demand in portable electronics was primarily due to a slowdown in the China OEM smartphone market, where Chinese vendors experienced a 30% drop in demand for the period. This partially offset higher demand in general industrial and consumer applications.
HPF has implemented a number of process improvements to reduce cost and improve output. For example, the teams designed, fabricated, and installed new process system enhancements to minimize scrap and increase throughput with meaningful cost savings. Another effort involved working closely with a supplier to upgrade raw material quality, which led to improved yields.
From a market standpoint, we believe that smartphone rollouts in the second half of 2015 will rebound for portable electronic applications. HPF has intensified its focus on General Industrial applications, which now represent roughly 30% of HPF sales. In addition, we have expanded our efforts in the higher-growth Consumer Comfort and Impact Protection segment to accelerate our market penetration. We see opportunities for sales and profitability growth at HPF through geographic expansion of both consumer and General Industrial offerings.
Power Electronics Solutions (PES) net sales were $38.5M, a decrease of 5.6% compared to Q1 2014. PES sales grew 6.9% on a currency-adjusted basis from the prior year, indicating solid volume growth. Our results reflect strong demand in EV/HEV applications (up 66%) and mass transit (up 5%). This performance was offset in part by weaker demand in variable frequency drives (down 14%) and certain renewable energy applications (down 20%).
PES made key investments in 2014 to drive manufacturing process improvements. Automating processes in our PES manufacturing operations helped to reduce operational cycle time and improve productivity, enabling greater speed to market and driving yield improvements.
Looking ahead in PES, we see continued growth in the EV/HEV markets due to worldwide demand for better fuel efficiency.
Megatrends and Markets
As mentioned previously, we are introducing Safety and Protection as our new megatrend category in order to align with the growth we have experienced in worldwide demand for our consumer safety and protection solutions.
Key applications in Safety and Protection include automotive safety radar, consumer impact and protection, and materials used in food safety, industrial, and mass transit applications.
In Q1 2015, Safety and Protection applications grew at 18% over Q1 2014 (Rogers only), and represented 10% of Rogers overall sales. We see opportunities in the category of automotive radar systems where industry experts predict a Compound Annual Growth Rate of more than 30% through 2020, and growth from less than 20 million units in 2014 to nearly 96 million units in 2020.
Together, all three megatrend categories accounted for 68% of total sales in Q1 (including Arlon).
In Q1, weakness in demand for portable electronic devices resulted in slightly lower revenue in Internet Connectivity applications. As mentioned earlier, we expect this to rebound in the second half of 2015. In addition, we believe strong demand will continue for applications found in wireless communications base stations and antenna systems.
In the Clean Energy category, our volumes were up slightly, however, currency headwinds resulted in lower year-over-year comparisons. We see continued opportunities for Rogers’ unique solutions in energy efficient motor drives, which comprise approximately 35% of PES sales. In addition, the vehicle electrification market is expected to have a Compound Annual Growth Rate of roughly 15% through 2019.
Take a look at Senior Quality Engineer Jeremy Ross as he strolls us through some ‘desktop demos’ you can easily perform yourself. They give you a peek at PORON® cushioning’s many benefits: short term compression set, long term compression set, shock absorption, and easy fabrication.
Need help selecting the right PORON® comfort material for your underfoot designs? The PORON® Material Selection Tool will help you identify the which materials are ideally suited to your design requirements.