Site: COM DEV
155 Sheldon Drive
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada N1R 7H6

Date Visited: May 5, 1997

WTEC: A. Mac Rae (report author), K. Bhasin, C. Bostian, W. Brandon

Hosts:

BACKGROUND

COM DEV was formed in 1974 and is a global designer and manufacturer of high quality space and ground based wireless communications products and sub-systems. It consists of two operating units, The Space Group, which the WTEC team visited in Cambridge, and the Phase Group, a 1996 acquisition located in England. The latter group designs and manufactures equipment used for terrestrial mobile, fixed wireless local loop, and fiber-coax markets. The company is listed on the Toronto and Montreal Stock Exchanges and did $101 million (or ~ $75 million U.S.) business in 1996, up from $63 million in 1995, with a profit of $11 million in 1996. It spent $22 million in R&D in 1996. Its work force has grown from 600 to 1,300 people in the past year. Recently, the company established a joint venture in Xian, China to manufacture both space and terrestrial products in that country.

The Space Group's principal business is as a supplier of parts and sub-systems to the major global spacecraft manufacturers. The products include switches for routing of signals between up and down link antennas, integrated multiplexers and demultiplexers, filters, SAW filters, electronically tuned filters to change the bandwidth of in-orbit transponders, SAW based onboard processors ("Switch-board in the Sky"), and the Iridium antennas for space to ground and intersatellite communications, which are currently being delivered. It has captured ~80% of the world's commercial market for onboard satellite switches.

COM DEV is leveraging its traditional strength in spacecraft microwave component and sub-system design and manufacturing expertise with applications to the rapidly growing terrestrial mobile wireless and fixed wireless local loop. Conversely, it is utilizing strengths of the Phase Group to expand the product line of the Space Group. Clearly, the company sees new opportunities for it to grow by having products for space and terrestrial wireless communications systems. To-date, it has avoided manufacturing products for the ground segment of satellite communications. Also, it avoids the manufacture of military-specific products unless it can apply this expertise to the commercial market.

COM DEV has the ISL and space to ground Ka-band antenna contract for Iridium. The WTEC team saw an advanced production line for these antennas. The company emphasizes manufacturabilty and is proud of the fact that Iridium does not have to test its antennas before they are attached to the spacecraft. The ISL antennas are mechanically steerable with open loop pointing.

COM DEV recognizes that, for the most part, satellite procurement is a commodity business and that there is opportunity to be a global supplier of high quality, low cost, specialized microwave components and sub-systems to satellite manufacturers. To achieve this goal, the company has an effective R&D program for new products, and focuses on manufacturing processes. In some cases COM DEV competes with the satellite in-house suppliers of components and sub-systems, and company representatives view this competition as healthy since they obtain valuable benchmarking of costs as well as feedback on their technical capabilities. Formal quality programs are much in evidence and are important factors in shipping reliable products, decreasing costs and maintaining a highly motivated workforce.

Research and Development Activities

COM DEV has a long-term commitment to customer driven R&D, with a vigorous program devoted to expanding its product line, and to supplying products for the next generation satellites that will feature onboard processing. In 1996, it devoted about 22% of its resources to R&D, with 6% of the funding coming from internal sources and the rest from contracts with customers and from the U.S. and Canadian governments. It is planning to work with a major supplier of terrestrial communications equipment to apply this technology to space products. The COM DEV space R&D program includes the following:

COMMENTS

COM DEV is a world class provider of onboard switches, integrated MUXs and more recently intersatellite link and gateway satellite link antennas. It has a strong, customer driven R&D program that has resulted in numerous products and is on the forefront of such technologies as switches and superconducting filters. Emphasis is placed on manufacturability and the use of commercial and in-house developed CAD tools to decrease the development time, and to ensure the shipment of quality products. As a result of the acquisition of a terrestrial wireless company, the company is able to deliver products to the satellite marketplace that are synergistic to both cellular and satellites business. It has made and will continue to make partnerships with satellite manufacturing companies to ensure outlets for its future products. In addition, it looks forward to working with terrestrial communications companies in an attempt to migrate terrestrial communications technology to the satellite marketplace. A partnership with Newbridge Networks has been formed for this purpose.


Published: December 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian