The RF/microwave industry as a whole looks forward to the annual IEEE International Microwave Symposium (IMS) not only for its excellent collection of technical papers and workshops, but for the opportunity to see old friends and prowl the exhibition floor in search of new products and to eyeball what competitors are showing. For those involved in the test-and-measurement side of the field, it is also a great chance to go “shopping” for that next piece of test gear without spending a dime. But here’s the rub: IMS is less than three days long, so the time on the exhibition floor must be spent wisely even when “just” sizing up new test equipment from some of the exhibitors.
IMS is such a special event because it is the one time that a visitor can see existing and new test-and-measurement equipment from some of the smallest and largest suppliers in the industry at the same time. Etiquette is important at each booth visit, since those company representatives put in long days on their feet for the length of the exhibition period. Their inevitable question, “Are you in the market for a new piece of test equipment?” should not be answered with a misleading comment that a purchase is only months away. Honesty is always the best response, perhaps with a response that there is a need in the workshop or the production line for a signal generator, or a high-speed oscilloscope, or a new microwave VNA.
With the large collection of company exhibitor booths on the IMS show floor (over 600), the number of test-and-measurement companies is quite large and allows a visitor to receive demonstrations of everything from the smallest accessory items to the largest automated-test-equipment (ATE). For a test-and-measurement equipment specifier, the key to receiving the greatest benefit for time spent on the show floor is to optimize the time at each booth. Product demonstrations, such as on a signal generator or a VNA, can easily extend beyond 20 minutes, with the total time spent at a booth easily exceeding a half-hour. Simple arithmetic will show that even a full day on the IMS show floor will not allow a large number of booth visits if too much time is spent at any one booth.
By formulating a “booth visit plan” in which a particular type of test equipment, such as a signal generator, is the focus of each visit, it is possible to efficiently spend time at each booth while coming away with useful details on specific available test equipment. For instruments such as signal generators, for example, visits should be conducted as a form of survey, in which similar performance specifications can be compared. Notes should be taken so that a useful comparison of different signal generators can be performed at the end of the show, such as output power across the frequency range, frequency tuning resolution, spurious and harmonic noise, phase noise, even frequency switching speed. Most companies will be ready with data sheets and other documentation on their products and these can be kept in a file for comparison of the different signal generators (or other instrument of choice) at the end of IMS.
With the number of booths on the show floor, it is easy to become distracted by the many other fascinating products that will be on display, from amplifiers to waveguide. But for someone who is interested in the latest test-and-measurement equipment, and may even have a need for a particular measurement function, this industry event is a tremendous opportunity to gather information on one or more types of RF/microwave instruments in just three days, and to walk away having seen the operator’s interface, getting the feel of the instrument’s controls, even looking at the display screen for analysis instruments. The “hands-on” part of a product demonstration at IMS can often provide more useful data during the specifying process than any pile of brochures and data sheets.