Michael Rankins-Vice President & General Manager and Charles Wiles- Program Manager & Marketing Manager
As the saying goes, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Black Forest Engineering (BFE) is the result of Steve Gaalema’s passion for building a world of difference in the custom integrated circuit (IC) design space. Holding over a decades’ worth of experience working with Hughes Aircraft and other prominent players, he laid the foundational stones of the company in 1990. With his in-depth technical know-how and entrepreneurial skills, he soon ingrained his signature in the industry and pushed the boundaries to solve complex problems, giving BFE the momentum required to be competitive. In no time, the company evolved into an industry-leading custom IC design house and forayed into testing and providing consulting services for nonstandard ICs essential for systems to meet clients’ varying requirements.
As a full-service custom mixed-signal ASIC design house, the company excels in providing a full array of services to businesses of all sizes from the initial IC specification to functional test system. BFE is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Luminar Technologies and a leading innovator of IC based sensors for IR, visible, and X-Ray detectors with integrated camera displays.
“Our expertise and extensive experience makes us a good fit for a multitude of applications, and we excel in a broad array of IR and X-ray systems, visible and high-speed sensors, and spatial light modulators,” says Michael Rankins, the Vice President and General Manager of BFE.
Having such a perfect end-to-end servicing capability, BFE grabbed the attention of Luminar, its parent company, and positioned itself to be their strategic partner in developing lidar receiver chips.Today, Luminar is one of the most prominent customers of BFE. Recently, BFE developed an LWIR camera in less than five grams of weight while consuming less than a third of a watt for video operation that can be used in several products, including unmanned vehicles, drones, and a host of other applications.
What gives BFE an edge over the competition is its dedication to solving clients’ complex challenges by leveraging its collaborative customer onboarding approach. A typical client engagement begins with the team at BFE gaining a holistic understanding of their specific needs to create the best solution that meets their requirements. For instance, when a customer approaches the company with an idea, it sits down with them, helping them modify those specifications to develop an ideal solution that not only meets that specific purpose but also works better for their overall system.
“Having a powerful line of services, we cater to a wide range of clients that encompasses government departments, military contractors, scientific institutions, and other commercial customers,” says Charles Wiles, Program Manager at BFE. He recalls their collaboration with NASA, where the company helped them in developing their prestigious Mars Climate Sounder. Built with the combination of customer-provided NASA/JPL thermopile linear IR array and a BFE-designed CMOS readout IC, the device is still operating in Martian Orbit. Such instances of success are the result of its dedicated team of engineers that holds over 450 years of combined experience. “Combining our knowledge and desire for customer satisfaction, we are able to deliver high-quality solutions that exceed our customers’ varying needs,” adds Wiles.
Moving ahead, BFE envisions evolving from a design house to a product development organization while helping Luminar advance its lidar sensor and scale its business. Furthermore, Luminar’s recent acquisition of OptoGration allows BFE to embrace their technology around a proprietary technique of epitaxial layer transport (ELT) to deliver single-photon counting devices. BFE combines their photodiode with its silicon devices to build the first-of-its-kind sensitive lidar receiver-processing chip with a high dynamic range. “The new acquisition is creating a broad range of opportunities in the industry, where we can collaborate with OptoGration to develop a creative solution and thereby, serve as a one-stop-shop solution for our clients’ needs of today and future,” concludes Rankins.