The key stages of semiconductor lifecycle management (SLiM) have been discussed throughout this series, and now we want to look at one of the most overlooked aspects of successfully extending product lifetimes -- namely, developing in the first place key partnership relationships that create an environment where products avoid last-time-buys and end-of-life notices.
For military and aerospace contractors, the obsolescence problem primarily occurs due to the disparity between commercial and military markets. The difference is twofold: Commercial life cycles are much shorter with higher volumes, while military market life cycles are longer with lower volumes. Semiconductor manufacturers are mainly focused on commercial market innovation, constantly trying to introduce new, cutting-edge products to stay ahead of their competitors. These manufacturers cycle through product lines quickly, and once the commercial volume decreases, they prefer to discontinue products rather than support lower volume, military/aerospace customers. These suppliers do not plan with the military/aerospace customer in mind, but just announce last-time-buys (LTBs), raise prices, and then exit the business.
Following the LTBs, the obsolescence suppliers jump into the picture, grabbing excess inventory and die banks. They try as hard as they can to meet the requirements for military/aerospace programs, but haphazard and inconsistent supply, counterfeit material, struggles to redesign obsolete devices, and increasing prices characterize the obsolescence marketplace. With no definitive plan for the transfer of products from the original semiconductor suppliers to the obsolescence suppliers, the military/aerospace contractor is forced to scramble to try and meet its program requirements.
The ideal scenario occurs when the SLiM supplier proactively builds relationships with the original semiconductor manufacturers and crafts with them a plan for extended long-term support for diminishing product lines. When an agreement exists between the original manufacturer and the SLiM supplier for support of a product line, the results for the military/aerospace contractor are immeasurably valuable. The parties work together to develop a transition plan for extended product life, eliminating the need for EOL notices and LTBs. The contractor is not forced to purchase large quantities outside of the current program requirements and can depend on the SLiM supplier for longer-term support.
The SLiM supplier, armed with such tools as bonding diagrams, test programs and platforms, fabrication facility connections, and package piece part identification, can continue to produce devices for the military/aerospace contractor, which is thus assured of receiving a quality product meeting all original product specifications. This type of partnership with SLiM suppliers gives original suppliers an advantage in competing for new design sockets, as the customer designs in with the confidence that it will be able to purchase the devices over the full project lifecycle.
To date, only a few relationships exist between original semiconductor manufacturers and the obsolescence suppliers. Issues such as protection of trade secrets and fear of lost business have kept the original manufacturers from building these relationships, and thus we are left with the unmanageable obsolescence market of today. Going forward, as SLiM suppliers partner with the original semiconductor suppliers to provide a plan for their military/aerospace customers, part supply shortages will be less of a problem for these programs.