The Roundtable - Military Electronics
Moderated by Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, the Roundtable is where industry players talk about market and industry trends. This month's question is: With the continuous improvement in the reliability of commercial parts, will harsh environment performance remain a major focus in military electronics?
Jerry Seams, Global Applications Engineering Director, TT electronics Fixed Resistors (www.ttelectronics.com)
The short answer is yes.
Restrictive legislation (e.g., REACH, RoHS and the Congo Conflict Materials Act) mandates reduction, elimination or restriction of materials traditionally used in electronics to make high-rel components, making them more difficult to manufacture. New problems/risks associated with replacement materials must be mitigated through environmental testing. For example, with the RoHS reduction/elimination of lead in terminations and solder connections, new testing for tin whiskers and tin pest is required.
Urban environments include sulfur and other corrosive materials in the atmosphere. Anti-sulfuration components are becoming the norm for communications equipment headed to Asia. Military devices must undergo environmental testing for these corrosive constituents to confirm component reliability and performance.
MIL applications demand longer life. Satellites/missiles and other hardware require up to 40 years of operational life. Environmental testing is cheap insurance when putting a military satellite into space. At $1 billion+ for a repair call to an orbiting satellite, environmental testing is a cost-effective way to assure that space hardware will work for the entire design life of the program.
Kai Johnstad,Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Vicor (www.vicr.com)
Yes! Despite the advances in commercial semiconductor reliability, the needs of military and aerospace programs call for higher levels of performance in challenging environments. Military electronics must be built to be stored and to operate in punishing conditions that may go well beyond the expectations of commercial parts. Depending on the application, shipboard, airborne, ground vehicle or man-pack, the components of military systems may be subjected to extremes in temperature, thermal shock, acceleration, vibration, EMI, etc. Qualification and screening will continue to be necessary to guarantee that systems work when called upon.
There are, however, some military applications that are subject to a small subset of these stressors and reduced levels of stress and are not mission-critical. These applications can often be designed with commercial and industrial parts, saving money and reducing the time to deploy systems to the field.
Parts requiring the ruggedness for storage and operation in harsh environments are available from Vicor and other vendors that produce MIL-COTS parts that are qualified to military standards and inspected and screened for compliance to a broad range of specifications. This level of testing is vital to ensure the reliability of the electronics that underlie our defense forces. Until armies decide to confine their work to air-conditioned spaces, the need for harsh environment performance will continue to be vitally important.
Brad Briggs, R&D Manager, Datakey Electronics (www.datakeyelectronics.com)
As a supplier of rugged COTS products that are used in military applications, we feel that harsh environment performance must remain a focus for electronic devices that will operate in tactical environments. Due to the economies of scale, mass produced commercial parts can deliver cost savings, but that benefit must be weighed against the robustness of the product and the environment in which it will operate. Success of the mission and the safety of our soldiers must always remain as top priorities. As long as the electronic devices our soldiers use are operating in environments of extreme temperatures, blowing sand and dust, and are subject to shock, vibration and other hazards, they must operate reliably in these conditions. In order for commercial products to be viable solutions for military applications, not only must they operate reliably in harsh, tactical environments, they should also have long-term availability, so the product can be produced, as-designed, for many years. Datakey Electronics manufactures rugged COTS portable memory solutions for military and other harsh environment applications. For over 35-years we have focused on delivering rugged and reliable products with long-term availability and we will continue to focus on these values in the years to come.
Young Kwon, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Xilinx (www.xilinx.com)
While it is true that reliability has improved for commercial grade semiconductors due to the efforts of consumer products manufacturers to improve product quality and ultimately improving brand image, it is still a long road to the level of reliability required by some defense and space related needs.
Commercial / consumer devices typically operate at temperatures of 0 – 85 degrees Celsius. True military grade devices must operate at -55 to +125 degrees C or greater. This range of operation for sophisticated functions requires design and yield trade-offs. Testing is another costly aspect of military hardware. All parts must be 100% tested to a variety of severe tests (including destructive) at low through put. Commercial grade plastic packaging has widely penetrated the defense arena due to Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) requirements. However, in critical applications, ruggedized packaging is still a requirement, especially when it comes to tin content. Due to tin whiskering phenomena, most mission critical applications ban the use of pure tin where the commercial world has completely embraced lead free/tin solutions.
The likely scenario is that there will always be a niche for high reliability electronics for military/space applications as the fiscal and performance profile will always be dissimilar to commercial applications. COTS will continue to push commercial into defense scenarios wherever possible so ultimately there will be an appropriate balance.
Doug Benner, Senior Vice President and General Manager Defense, Excelitas Technologies (www.excelitas.com)
The conditions in which military operations are conducted will continue to demand products which demonstrate high reliability in harsh environments. This need is unlikely to change any time soon as equipment will continue to be mounted in unprotected locations. While roughly a quarter of the military power supply market can be served by integrating commercial parts into electronic systems, the process of developing and qualifying a power supply to military specifications will continue to drive a strong need for custom power solutions to meet the unique demands of individual military systems.
At Excelitas Technologies, our power supplies are designed and manufactured to meet these specifications and operate reliably in the harshest defense conditions including survival in natural and man-made radiation environments. When serving the Defense market, military designers can leverage advances in electronic components used in commercial applications. One such commercial application is that of automotive electronics. The environment under the hood of an automobile is similar in many respects to those experienced by military equipment. Additionally, the automotive industry has demanded components that will function reliably at little or no added cost. For the right application, these parts can offer cost-effective, reliable military solutions.
Tony Khazen, Director, Datel Products (www.datel.com)
In recent years, there has been a trend towards use of commercial off- the-shelf (COTS) components in Military systems. With no standardization to define these products, however, the definition of COTS tends to vary among manufacturers. COTS products are typically used only in land-based military systems while MIL-STD-883 compliant products continue to be the choice for most military systems.
Though the majority of our efforts are focused on developing MIL-STD-883 products, we have recently introduced a lower cost alternative, a ‘MIL COTS’ grade, to satisfy many land-based applications. These MIL COTS products are offered as 100% electrically tested over the full temperature range of -55C to 125C, subjected to high temperature burn-in, assembled with lot traceability and can be supplied as either RoHS or Non-RoHS compliant
Even with the introduction of our MIL COTS product offering, we still continue to see increasing customer demand for our MIL-STD-883 products. These Class-H hermetically sealed products are subjected to electrical, environmental and mechanical screenings which weed out infant mortalities that could be so troublesome in the end-user application. As such, we are of the opinion the majority of applications will continue to require the best and most robust High Reliability products available on the market.
Roland Chapa, Product Line Director for Hi-Rel and Visible LED Products, TT electronics (www.ttelectronics.com)
Harsh environment performance has been intensified with increasingly demanding standards from different arenas of military industry. Military electronics have expanded into new applications and are required to perform in conditions of harsh temperatures, extreme environments and various altitudes including aerospace.
The increased technological demands for a wide range of new applications being developed as a result of this expanding market, such as ground soldier recognition and surveillance satellites, has increased stress on electronics at the component level and driven requirements for smaller and lighter equipment that performs more functions without a failure. The side benefit of providing solutions for these military application issues is an improved commercial product offering that is also compatible with consumer and medical applications. Manufacturers are incorporating these military designs into other applications to reduce failure rates and provide long-term reliability.
In both military and commercial markets, harsh-environment performance is one of the major catalysts for the development of new, higher performance products. For military applications, the products used must be able to endure warfare and border security. The requirements of these products must meet the ground level conditions and incorporate specifications for performance in high altitudes such as unmanned aircrafts, and given all of the new applications, the environmental demands for Military has resulted with an expanding market and great growth potential for the future.
Wes Morgan, Director, America’s Product Management at ITT Interconnect Solutions (www.ittcannon.com)
Although reliability improvements have taken place on commercial components used in the electronics industry, we anticipate that harsh environment performance issues will remain a key differentiator between high reliability Mil-Aero connectors and components and their commercial counterparts.
Extensive testing, in line with accepted test protocol that has been adopted across the Military electronics industry, will continue to be the primary method of ensuring harsh environment performance and reliability requirements can be met. The ability to meet these criteria usually results in a additional costs over commercial connectors and components. In addition, there are emerging requirements within the Military market for newer materials that meet green materials initiatives that have been adopted in the commercial markets, and are now being developed for Military high reliability connectors. Harsh exposure requirements typically pose a challenge to green materials used on commercial connectors, and this has proved a very tough initiative to support due to the inability of commercial grade products to meet harsh environment exposure criteria.
Until such time as there is a merging of commercial and military performance harsh environment requirements, there will continue to be resistance in adopting commercial components for use in Military applications. Due to the additional cost required to meet these criteria, we expect to see separate product classes continue to be offered to both markets.