The RFEL lab in a box includes almost everything product designers need to test prototypes and prep designs for production

By Brian Santo, contributing writer

Yet another
mainstay of classic analog engineering, the magnetron, is being targeted for silicon
replacement. In the last year or so, RF semiconductors aimed at heating
applications have started to reach the market. These RF ICs promise to consume
significantly less power and deliver superior precision controlling
temperatures. NXP is among those offering these RF ICs, and has launched a set
of tools that engineers can use to design and prototype systems based on RF energy
semiconductors. 

NXP is offering
turnkey solutions and reference designs for industrial, scientific and medical
applications to help designers transition from legacy vacuum tube-based systems
to solid-state systems for efficient and controllable RF energy.

 

One example is
microwave ovens. Traditional microwave ovens might cycle their magnetrons on
and off every few seconds through the duration of the cook time. However, microwave
ovens based on RF semiconductors can be cycled on and off in milliseconds (and
perhaps even microseconds, if necessary), and be combined with sensors that
will be able to measure the temperature of the food being heated; data that can
be used to achieve finer cooking control.

 

There are other
applications for RF energy. One is medical ablation, a process of heating human
tissue, sometimes at RF and sometimes at microwave frequencies. The technique
has a wide range of applications, including correcting heart arrhythmia,
reducing osteoarthritic knee pain, and treating some forms of cancer. There is
also a range of industrial uses that includes treating materials such as wood,
ceramics and paints; warming medical materials, and chemical processing.

 

NXP Semiconductors
announced a set of 2.45-GHz, 250-W platform solutions to help engineers prototype and
develop RF energy systems. All three solutions are built around NXP’s MRF24300N
300 W LDMOS transistor, designed for 2400-2500 MHz operation at 60 percent
drain efficiency. The company claims that extensive RF
expertise is not necessary to prototype with the development platforms.

 

The RFE Series of system solutions
include the following: 

  • RFEL Lab
    Box, a plug-and-play RF generator
  • RFEM module that combines
    RF power transistors with a microcontroller
  • RFEP Pallet,
    a three-stage power amplifier reference design

NXP
describes the RFEL Lab Box as a plug-and-play RF generator with
reflected power measurement, designed for evaluation and initial prototyping. The
fully integrated lab box must be hooked up to a PC; it is controlled through a
PC-based graphical user interface (GUI).

The RFEM
Module includes RF power transistors and an
NXP Kinetis microcontroller, supporting an application programming interface
(API) that allows multiple operations such as frequency sweeps and closed-loop
modes, the company said.

The company promises that using the
box, engineers can prototype quickly and easily. Once they have a prototype in
hand,
engineers can then use the module and pallet to create production systems. NXP also has an existing product line of high-performance RF components
with associated evaluation boards, an option for engineers who have more RF
expertise.

The company said
it is building an ecosystem of skilled and vetted design houses and ODM
partners willing to crank out finished designs in volume.

Full availability
of the RFE Series is scheduled for September 2018. The RFEL24-500, a 2 x 250-W
lab box, is priced at $10,000. It is available only for purchase by
approved customers; however, according to the company’s website, each order
will be reviewed prior to being fulfilled. The RFEM24-250 is a 250-W module, priced at
$2,500. (Two RFEM24-250 modules are included in the RFEL24-500 lab box.) The
RFEP24-300 300-W pallet is priced at $1,500.

All three
solutions are built around NXP’s MRF24300N RF transistor, which is shipping in
volume and is part of NXP’s Product Longevity Program, which guarantees
availability until at least 2026.