Keysight Technologies Is Helping Me Expand the Boundaries of Engineering and Innovation One Measurement at a Time


I've been an inventor and engineer since I was a child, and can tell you about the first project that got me into trouble. I was 12 or 13 years old, and I converted the family television set into an oscilloscope, which was quite a feat. But then I had to put it back together again, and this is where everything got tricky because engineers have a lot more trouble reassembling things than taking them apart.

I was influenced by ham radio operators. These are the amateur radio enthusiasts who send two-way messages around the world using non-commercial frequencies. You could say I specialize in wireless. I hold five patents in RF transmission and EMI shielding, and I invented the circular wideband amplifier used in early MRI machines.

Currently, I’m based in Portland, Oregon, and have worked as a consultant since 2003. These days, I focus on the Internet of Things (IoT). However, I look at the technology from an RF and wireless perspective. I see it as short- and long-range radios connected to various types of sensors.

I believe engineers should empower communities. This is the reason why I volunteer to coach students from the University of Washington in Vancouver, which is just across the state line. I've been working as an engineer since the mid-1970s, and have amassed a lot of knowledge to offer up-and-comers. After all, we are all a part of this bigger entity that is the international engineering community, and none of us work in a vacuum. 

The Smaller the Scale, the Bigger the Issue

As an inventor and consulting engineer, I need the right equipment to solve big problems. I often work with tiny components and miniaturized circuits, and the smaller the scale, the bigger the issue.

A few years ago, I was working on a three-company project to resolve an issue that was preventing a piece of gear from going into production. It was a $400 million joint venture, and a faulty component was causing massive headaches. At one point, the component in question overheated, setting fire to the truck it was in, and damaging the garage where the vehicle was stored.

People pay attention to that kind of mishap, especially when you have to report it to regulators and other government and industry bodies. I worked with a team of sixty engineers to resolve the issue. We broke down the signal chain into smaller sections and started looking for a potential cause.

During the process, we discovered that we hadn't anticipated every potential fault point, and so we had to add some additional tests. We also realized that there were some other issues we needed to address. 

Precision Measurements Turn Failure into Success

We had to examine everything from the power supply to the antenna, and so I needed a full complement of testing equipment, including network and signal analyzers, power meters, and frequency counters.

With so much on the line, my team had to be thorough. We used Keysight testing and measurement equipment to generate the data we needed to analyze, isolate, and repair the issue. After we completed our analysis, we compiled an internal report that we then presented to the three partner companies.

As a result of our recommendations, the partners changed the component design, as well as the rules and the parameters that defined this and future versions of the part. We ended up publishing our research, and this led to the entire industry adopting our specifications.

I'm especially proud of my work on this project because my team set out to solve a specific problem and ended up defining an industry-wide standard that changed reliability testing for that type of component. As I said earlier, engineering is a community, and this is an example of the way professionals work together even when we are competing with one another. 

Testing and Measurement Tools Fuel Startup Dreams

I have also worked with several startups. I love their energy. But even with that enthusiasm, they have to design and deliver products, and there are times when reality can get in the way of their dreams. On two separate occasions, I went in as a consultant and helped troubleshoot and correct issues at the chip level.

In both of these cases, the engineers had run countless simulations, and the chips should have worked in theory. However, you can't simulate everything, and there are times when you have look at the silicon to extract specific parameters.

Keysight allowed me to dig deep and extract the parameters my clients needed to re-characterize and re-spin their chips. Keysight's testing and measurement tools are faster, more sensitive, and more accurate than the competition, and therefore yielded far more usable data.

Such advanced features do come at a cost, but Keysight rents equipment to small companies that can't afford an outright purchase, or only need these devices in the short term. Other suppliers of test instruments don't offer the same flexible terms. As a consultant, I take comfort in the knowledge that I can provide the best tools in the business to all of my customers.

Extracting Precise Data Moves Projects Forward

Another crucial feature of all Keysight testing and measurement equipment is the ability to extract data that can then be visualized with the company's software, or integrated into Excel and PowerPoint. This capacity adds to the already excellent built-in displays that are easy to read and allow you to isolate the parameters you want to explore.

It's one thing to show your findings to other engineers, but you also have to show them to your project leads, your managers, and your board. The ability to extract data and to make it presentable is crucial to getting executive buy-in.

The data extraction process is so simple that you can create daily reports to follow even the most incremental progress, and this helps build momentum to keep a project moving forward.

Online Webinars Build Careers

One area where Keysight rises above everyone else is training and support. The company's webinars are one of the best educational resources available to young engineers. When I started my career in the mid-1970s, schools and companies took the time to train recent graduates on testing equipment. I learned how to set up and calibrate gear like spectrum frequency analyzers by hand, and I was mentored every step of the way.

This type of hands-on training is a rarity these days. It's easy to learn the basic functions of digital equipment, but digging deeper to find more measurement resources, to extract additional parameters, and to calibrate gear requires knowledge that goes beyond a user manual.

Keysight offers a comprehensive library of webinars that teaches young engineers everything about using and calibrating testing and measurement equipment. I love their “Back to Basics” series, like their one on Network Analysis.

These online lessons cover everything from the fundamentals to advanced measurement techniques. Keysight also offers tips, tricks, and best practices to help improve the quality of measurements. 

Tutorials as Training and Sales Tools

For example, I can show webinars about coding FPGAs to engineers who have never worked with programmable chips. I can also send links to videos about working with RF measurements to engineers who have no previous radio experience. Sometimes, I'll recommend these videos because Keysight has added new features to an existing product, and the engineers I'm working with aren't up to date.

I also use these webinars as a sales tool. When I'm dealing with a crisis, and I have no time to go through a complicated procurement process, I'll show a customer one of the Keysight instructional videos to give them an understanding of the equipment they should rent or buy.

But as I said to begin with, Keysight's online tutorials provide a treasure trove of learning for young engineers, and I am proud to use the tools provided by a company that offers such an excellent service to the entire profession. 

Stretching the Boundaries of Imagination and Innovation

Keysight's measurement and testing tools are helping me to stretch my boundaries as an inventor and as an engineer. With increased precision comes increased creativity.

Right now, Keysight's measurement technology is more precise than the tools we can build with it. To give you one example, I've invented some ultra-high efficiency amplifiers that haven't come on the market yet because we lack the computing power to make use of them. IoT technology is at that stage, too. 

The next generation of IoT products will be far more powerful and useful than what's currently out there, but we don’t have a use for them yet.

Climate Change: The Next Engineering Challenge

In the next few years, I hope to turn my attention to climate change, which is accelerating. We got ourselves into a big mess and have brought the Earth to the edge of destruction because we used technology irresponsibly.

I believe we can reverse the damage and return the planet to a pristine state using technology, but it won't happen overnight. We have to think in the long term, and we need to spend the next 50 to 100 years mitigating the damage we have done before we can start reversing it.

It may sound like a faraway dream, but I believe it is possible. When I look at the young engineers around me, I marvel at their dedication, their skill, and their ingenuity. They just need the right tools and support by their side.