tiny parts Johanson worker operates equipment that forms the “layer cake” of the parts.

Plugged In

Tiny parts add up to big business: Johanson Technology, Inc. in Camarillo a big player in the global capacitor market

By Karl Geiger 09/12/2013

In the world of electronics, the active devices — mainly microprocessors and transistors — get all the news and notice. Scads of other devices act as the supporting cast, however, and without them the active devices cannot function.

Open any modern electronic device, say an old cellular telephone that’s in the kitchen junk drawer. Look at the circuit boards. The large, black boxes contain memory, processors and radio transceivers. Look closer still: tiny little box-shaped objects festoon the circuit board. These are the passive devices, many smaller than a pinhead.

Johanson Technology, Inc. (www.johansontechnology.com) in Camarillo, makes these devices. It makes a lot of them, too. In the early 2000s, Johanson made devices that went into 85 percent of all cellular telephones sold worldwide.

What does Johanson Technology make? Capacitors.

Capacitors are electronic devices that temporarily store electric charge. They are the descendants of the Leyden jar, a device invented independently in 1745 by German cleric Ewald Georg von Kleist and by Dutch scientist Pieter van Musschenbroek of Leiden.

Their principle of operation hasn’t changed. Opposite charges (plus/minus) are built up on two conductor “plates” (pieces of metal or foil) that an insulator (“dielectric”) separates. The charge is “stored” as an electric field in the space between the plates or in the dielectric. Capacitors can be built by hand using aluminum foil and plastic wrap, or disks of metal separated by air. They are, in principle, that simple.

Capacitors take time to store up charge and, likewise, more time to discharge the energy they have stored. This behavior makes them critical for building radio circuits and the electronics that power them.  High-precision, high-efficiency parts are required for the high-frequency radios found in computer Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, GPS, cell phones, smart meters and other modern devices that transmit/receive radio or microwave signals.

Johanson makes individual devices and device assemblies. The company also makes antenna systems that come prepackaged with their supporting passive components, balun circuits used to join two different kinds of signal transmission cables (phone wire to TV coaxial cable), inductors (another passive device used in radio circuits) and more.

These products are made in the Camarillo plant in a clean room smaller than most auto repair shops.  Capacitors are made by automated machinery that sprays alternating layers of ceramic dielectric and conductor. The layered devices are then baked in a proprietary low-temperature process. It’s a bit like building a layer cake and then baking it except that a layer cake is built after the baking.

Johanson became a stand-alone company in 1993. The company’s mission was to focus on the wireless communication market. This market is expanding with new applications such as WLAN (wireless local area networking — a wide-area expansion of Wi-Fi), new mobile applications. It sells and distributes parts throughout the world via its partners or direct subsidiaries like Johanson Hong Kong Ltd. Design and manufacturing facilities are in South China and Camarillo, with service centers here, in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan.

Currently, the company has annual revenues of about $16 million and employs about 120. It prides itself on high performance manufacturing and the high-quality people it attracts, trains and retains. Johanson is currently looking for inside sales support personnel to expand business.

Telecommunications, both radio and optical (laser), play an increasing part in daily life. It is surprising to know that tiny parts whose predecessors were first invented nearly 270 years ago are still needed and are good business indeed. Johanson Technologies will continue to supply them and grow and prosper doing so.

Plugged In is a monthly column focused on new technology in and around Ventura County and it will be featured the second week of every month. Plugged In authors Bridge Carney and Karl Geiger are chair and past chair, respectively, for the Ventura Section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE], the world’s largest professional organization, with more than 800 local members in Ventura County. Please find them at www.ieee-bv.org.


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