First of all, let me commend you and your magazine for your efforts to bring younger, less experienced RF/microwave design engineers "up to speed on the many complex topics that comprise our industry, notably in your monthly RF Primer article. I read with great interest your installment on electromagnetic simulation software tools, "EM Simulators Study Field Patterns," in the July 2009 issue of Microwaves & RF and found it to be informative on a basic level and a good starting point for an engineer interested in learning more about the choices in available EM simulation products.
However, I do have a general problem with the growing trend in this industry on total reliance on EM simulators and other computer-aided-engineering (CAE) design tools. It is not that such software tools are not accurate or reliable; for the most part, they deliver as advertised. The problem I have is one of fundamental education: that using such tools does not teach a new RF/microwave engineer the basics of applying Maxwell's equations to solving EM field problems, or even how to use differential and integral equations to work out the current flow through conductive transmission lines.
My fear is that in using such "prepackaged" software tools, younger engineers will lose the "feel" for solving design problems with "pencil and paper" in the way that we older engineers were taught. By solving basic design problems without the help of software and a computer, an engineer truly learns the mechanisms behind current flow through a conductor, about the isolation afforded by different insulator materials, and even about the effects of changes in laminate dielectric constant on the operating frequency of a design.
Yes, the software makes the job easier, for now. But is it helping to produce tomorrow's innovative, free-thinking engineers, or just a bunch of mousepushing menu-driven technicians? In any case, keep up the good work with the magazine.
Dr. Omar Santiago
Dr. Santiago makes many valid points in his assessment of the current reliance on CAE tools. However, engineers interested in learning more about different EM simulation and circuit-design techniques have never been restricted from digging deeper into a CAE program to learn more. In many ways, CAE software tools have become the modern textbooks for practicing RF/microwave engineers.