Equipment & Components for the Satcom & Microwave/RF Industries

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Geoff Burling talks career, AtlanTecRF products and future strategy to Microwave Journal

Explain a little about your early engineering background, particularly your time working on the Concorde.

Concorde was an amazingly challenging project in so many aspects of its design, manufacture and operation, but the one overriding thing you learn when working on anything in aerospace is that it all has to be right — and right the first time.

That is not a bad motto for any business, and it's the way we like to work at AtlanTecRF.

What inspired you to train for a pilot's license? Do you still fly?

Back in the early eighties, I found that using air taxis to get a team of three or four engineers, including myself, to customers' premises early, for a full day's discussions on the products we were hoping they would buy, gave us an edge. So I learnt to fly and bought a plane.

Yes, I still fly and enjoy all the benefits of modern navigation systems and the latest in glass cockpit instrumentation. Again, flying is another one of those things where getting it right first time usually works out best!

Explain how you moved into the microwave industry and became involved with AtlanTecRF.

I moved from using electronic components to selling them and was able to draw on my own experiences in understanding what engineers are looking for. Some of those components were microwave components, and I developed a growing interest in that technology, to the point that when I started my own company that was the speciality with which I was comfortable.

Understanding your customers' objectives and speaking their language are vitally important when your customer is an engineer.

Outline the company's product portfolio.

AtlanTecRF manufactures a wide range of standard and bespoke (editor's note: made to order) equipment for RF testing in satellite communications, telecommunications, radar, HPA systems and many more. We also offer just about every type of coaxial microwave component, covering frequencies up to 75 GHz, higher in some cases.

It's this in-depth capability in components that gives us a distinct advantage when it comes to customising equipment economically and for quick delivery.

What are the key markets that these products address?

You know, we get involved in an incredible variety of applications, including all the usual ones in communications, aerospace, defence, test and measurement and scientific research.

But we also find ourselves working with industry where a novel role has been spotted for the use of microwaves. It's always great to talk to engineers and scientists about their projects — that is, if it's not a secret!

However, I think some of the most fascinating ways in which RF properties are used is in radio astronomy, and AtlanTecRF has worked with a large number of the world's leading universities in this discipline and has acquired somewhat of a reputation for listening and providing viable solutions. It's a two-way thing though, as universities also help us in developing new products.

Is custom design an important part of AtlanTecRF's offering?

Absolutely. For a company like ours, it's important to be able to show capability with a range of standard and sometime off-the-shelf products. But microwave systems are analog, and to make them perform at their best, some components need to be a custom fit. So, that's just what we are willing to do. We tailor the product to the customer's needs, and I can't emphasise enough how being able to talk engineering with engineers is a great asset. I've already told you how we customise our equipment lines, and we'll do the same in the component arena too.

Geographically, what are the company's key markets, and are there new ones you want to explore?

Of course, we started out in the U.K. market, but we have very quickly spread our sales activity around the world, with strong growth in Europe and Asia. Currently, our major drive is in North America, where the uptake of our satcom equipment has been very encouraging, with sales to most of the major players and also governmental organizations.

As a relatively small U.K.-based company, what would you say is the main selling point that persuades customers to do business with you?
We ask ourselves this constantly, as we try to hone the service we give and the products we offer. I think it's a combination of our wide product range, our technical knowledge, our ability to communicate with engineers (again) and the level of service we offer from start to finish.

The AtlanTecRF website hosts an "Engineering Hub." What does this offer?

Well, the Engineering Hub has become a kind of Aladdin's cave for microwave engineers, with masses of data on products which we have designed and supplied (actual test data for those who are looking to characterise more precisely), free software downloads and products listed by application and not just by product type. We are constantly adding to it.

In our August issue, Microwave Journal is publishing a product feature on your new satcom simulator. Would you give readers an insight into the product's significance.

The product idea came about because we are working with a number of customers for whom the traditional 19-inch rack-mount equipment didn't do a lot. Don't get me wrong, we love building 19-inch racks, but some satcom folks need portability and ease of use, simply due to the nature of some of the amazingly compact and mobile satellite systems currently enjoying success.

So, where the customer went, we followed and gave them a loopback test facility that didn't need cabling in or AC mains power and which could be set up so that the system under test recognized it as a real satellite. Customers are able to test quickly and easily and get their systems into service and earning revenues straight away.

What are AtlanTecRF's goals in the next two to five years?

Five years is a bit far out, and I can talk to you about these on a future occasion. However, in the next two, we have ambitious goals for continued growth in both our equipment and components product areas. Further penetration of the U.S. market is high on the agenda.

We are lucky to have so many product and market opportunities to choose from, and we generally concentrate on the ones which give us our targeted growth with the synergies that provide even more opportunities for the future. So we are making our presence felt in the satcom world but not abandoning our base business in components and interconnects. We expect growth in all these sectors and have exciting new product ideas, some of which I'll be happy to talk with you about and some that I'll not, for now at least.

You have a busy schedule, traveling to visit customers across the globe. Other than flying, how do you relax?

I enjoy the work and the people you meet in this business, some of whom I have known for over 40 years. But it's nice to get away at weekends with family and friends, do some flying, as you say. To really chill, there's nothing quite like a bit of fly fishing for trout in the mountain streams of a state that, if you don't mind, I'm going to keep a secret, just like some of our new product ideas!

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