One Up Studio is a hardware design engineering provider with a focus on signal integrity, and not coincidentally, a Samtec customer. I caught up with Paul Monar, the owner, to pick his brain about some interesting design challenges he faces at One Up and his connector system selection criteria.
DANNY: What type of customers use One Up Studio? Why?
PAUL: Most of our customers are newer IoT companies with products including smart home devices, wearables, industrial control, and smart agriculture, to name a few. But we also have a number of established clients in the broadcast video, data communications and semiconductor industries.
The start-ups we work with love us because we offer affordable end-to-end prototyping solutions including prototype miniaturization, and we connect them with local manufacturing facilities for fast product turn around. They often lack that in-house hardware design and manufacturing experience, so we fill that void for them. Most end-up being repeat customers, which is always the best kind of feedback we can get.
DANNY: What are some of the unique design challenges you’ve faced?
PAUL: Danny, we see so many different applications, that’s why I love my job. We almost never encounter the same application twice. The IoT movement is huge, the incentives are substantial and the amount of talent and innovations we see is impressive. Companies are always trying to solve new problems and each solution has its fair number of challenges at first.
A good example is from a design last year for one of our semiconductor customers. The product was a modular platform which enabled the evaluation of a family of high-speed receive/transmit devices. Due to its modular nature, we needed an interface that was rugged but easy to connect, one that was able to accommodate power delivery and many control lines but most importantly, able to carry high speed 100 Ω differential signals and 75 Ω single ended signals up to 12 Gbps.
As you know, there are not a lot of dedicated 75 Ω board-to-board connectors out there and you’ll have an even harder time finding one that can accommodate both differential and single ended signalling at these data rates in a single connector. The datacomm industry always led the pack and pushed the limits on interconnect data rates but these systems typically use 100Ω differential signalling.
Over the years, I’ve successfully designed Samtec’s HSEC8 and MEC8 connectors in many modular 75 Ω broadcast video systems, so these were already at the top of my list. They’re great edge card connectors, very versatile and can be adapted to a number of applications. However, we needed a connector that had better mechanical robustness, could take a greater number of insertions and still have a high pin count. I came across the ERF8/ERM8 connectors, which were unknown to me at the time, and it was a perfect match.
PAUL: First, let me say, I’ve been a Samtec fan for a very long time. I designed in my first Samtec connector back in 2009 when 3D TV was making a splash in the consumer market. What I always liked about Samtec is the performance, its extensive product offering and the great documentation. The ERF8/ERM8 offered great bandwidth (28 Gbps) with room to spare for my application, it had the pin count, hot plug features and the ruggedness we needed.
I think another key factor was my previous experience in designing the HSEC8 into 75 Ω systems so that gave us the confidence that we can make the ERF8/ERM8 work, too. A key specification in video systems is return loss. When trying to optimize return loss, any transition from connector to PCB and in this case back to connector and back to PCB, can be disastrous if signal integrity design techniques aren’t carefully followed. With our previous experience, the ERF8/ERM8 made it easy for us. And did I mention the mating alignment pins on these connectors? This connector snaps in effortlessly, it turns high speed PCBs into Lego pieces and that’s exactly what we were looking for.