Founded in 2006, Eagle Harbor Technologies (EHT) delivers high-quality pulsed power solutions to organizations such as the Department of Energy (DoE), NASA, and the United States Navy. From its headquarters in Seattle, WA, EHT offers a full suite of pulsed power products to commercial and research markets. These organizations depend on high-voltage nanosecond pulse generation, advanced plasma sources, and fusion energy technologies.

“Our mission had always been to deliver solutions that exceed customer expectations,” said Ken Miller, head research scientist at EHT. “Today, we bring that philosophy to commercial products. Our main business involves creating customized pulsed power supplies,” said Miller.

EHT products provide pulse control and generate high-voltage square wave pulses over a wide frequency. Uses include magnet control for fusion experiments, generation of high-power micro-waves in defense applications, and in biomedical for sterilization. This broad range of uses across multiple industries put EHT's products in high demand.

The Differentiator

Success in the energy industry is about exploring and pushing boundaries, and Eagle Harbor is a key partner in new initiatives. Researchers continuously stretch the limits of possibility when it comes to the future of nuclear fusion energy. “The primary obstacle to progress was the need for longer pulse generation. Future machines would require it, and no one had developed a reliable, cost-effective answer,” said Miller, “until we solved the problem.”

Arming itself with such a competitive advantage was no small feat for Miller and his team. “To generate sufficient pulse duration within parameters, our products use specialized boards that just aren't all that easy to design or build,” said Miller.

When EHT first transitioned into commercial products, the operation was lean and relied on expertise from outside the organization. “We are physicists, not PCB designers,” said Miller. “We needed a design tool that was cost-effective and easy to use.”

PCB123® printed circuit board design software from Sunstone Circuits (Mulino, OR) made it possible for EHT professionals to design PCBs with complex, geometric layouts. Of critical importance is that PCB123 is easy to use, enabling Miller and his team to quickly become proficient with the software. “PCB123 provided a low barrier to entry for scientists who were not necessarily electrical engineers,” said Miller. EHT chose Sunstone to prototype and manufacture the boards.

Collaboration, Iteration, and Improvement

“When Sunstone technicians first saw one of our designs, they told us they had never seen anything close to their complexity,” said Miller. The products rely on innovative PCB designs that must withstand operation at voltages up to 40 kilovolts (kV), while minimizing stray inductance and capacitance. To achieve these design goals, EHT designs with circular, ring-like layouts and complex curved copper shapes.

Challenges come in many varieties and are often about the tiniest detail — setting holdoffs for individual holes, or having individual polygons with standoffs different from the net with which they are associated. “The goal is always to make the process better the next time,” said Miller.

PCB123 certainly serves as the foundation for the durable partnership between Sunstone and EHT, but there is more to the relationship than software. “Sunstone produces quality boards and they do it very quickly,” said Miller. “It is one thing to find a software package capable of supporting such complex and precise design requirements,” said Miller. “Sunstone can also prototype and manufacture our boards on a timeline that meets our production requirements.”

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2017 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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