Designing an RF/microwave circuit or device to meet a set of performance requirements can be a humbling experience. For that reason, some firms rely on custom design services to develop a component, a subsystem, or even an integrated circuit (IC) to their specifications. A number of companies offer such services.

Digital Microwave Communications, to give an example, provides consulting and design services for wireless and microwave markets, both for commercial and military customers. The firm has developed both large- and small-volume products for customers, including wireless and RF/microwave transmitters, receivers, and transmitters in module and IC forms.

Firms that offer custom microwave design services typically rely on modern computer-aided-engineering (CAE) software simulation tools. For example, Custom Microwave, Inc., which has developed an array of different custom products, such as space-qualified antenna horns and feeds as well as filters, employs both mechanical-design software and microwave simulators to optimize the performance of its antenna-related designs. The company recently completed the construction of an in-house anechoic chamber to perform antenna feed pattern measurements. For mechanical design and analysis, Custom Microwave depends on SolidWorks 3D computer-aided-design (CAD) software from SolidWorks. The company uses Nastran finite-element analysis and simulation software from NEI Software for structural and thermal design and analysis, and a combination of Microwave Wizard from Mician for mode-matching EM simulations and the CST Microwave Studio suite of design tools from CST for 3D EM simulations.

VTI Instruments specializes in the design and manufacture of open-architecture solutions for custom microwave subsystems and broadband RF switching, chiefly for test and measurement applications. The company will work with components from a customer's preferred list of suppliers, acting as a system integrator to create an optimum test solution. The firm has delivered systems for critical applications in the aerospace, defense, manufacturing, medical, and process industries.

In some cases, companies that are also manufacturers offer custom design and manufacturing services to aid those in need of such guidance. For example, Microphase provides military, aerospace, and telecommunications components and subsystems built to specification.

Similarly, Microwave Concepts, a division of Micronetics, offers a broad range of design expertise in microwave components and complex integrated subassemblies used in military and high-end commercial applications. The company offers built-and-test-to-print services for existing components and subassemblies, and can perform full testing and military screening of manufactured components.

When design help is needed at the wafer level, numerous companies offer invaluable assistance, including Honeywell and IBM. Honeywell's silicon-on-insulator (SOI) foundry offers advanced CMOS circuitry that can integrate analog, digital, microwave, active, and passive components into a single monolithic component. For customers who purchase a foundry agreement, Honeywell also offers detailed design support from an experienced microwave designer or design team. For its silicon germanium (SiGe) foundry, IBM has developed a partnership with Tahoe RF Semiconductor to provide design services. Tahoe RF offers vast experience in designing RF and analog ICs with IBM's SiGe foundry and can assist customers with product definition, circuit design, and even packaging advice. Companies such as Tektronix have leveraged the SiGe foundry for custom application-specific ICs (ASICs) that have, for example, given the firm a strong competitive edge in the performance of its broadband digital oscilloscopes.