This discussion reminds me of the machine tool industry. Those huge press tools and grinders and CNC machining centers are designed to last for decades and they also use Electronics. Normally the machine outlasts the control electronics. Companies like FANUC who are the leaders in CNC machines, maintain spares inventory for such elctronics and guarantee you a support for the life of the machine. Similar support strategies can be followed by the high profile industries like Aerospace , Medical and Military.
I’m not really worried about the military services since they are only aimed to protect themselves from other nations and at the same time military is built to show off the dominance. But I’m really worried about the aerospace and medical companies since they have a responsibility and at the same time strong regulations to produce reliable and high life time products. But all the semiconductor companies are actually making products for the markets like communication, networking and consumer electronics to get the short term and high volume income. Only the major semiconductor companies are actually able to produce promising components for the aero and medical products.
The semiconductor and military businesses are working toward completely opposite goals. Chip companies want to create better, faster, cheaper technologies at an increasing rate while mil-aero wants systems that stand the test of time. Rather than moving closer I think the two are moving farther apart.
Yes its definitely a problem. In defense services, it takes so long first to take a decision to build some design and procurement is a also a lengthy process. And the time taken to build is also quite long. But keeping in mind its for national security dont they get any special preference when it comes to make military components obsolete or end of life. After all whatever are the reasons to obsolete/end of life a component, they can be mostly handled by goernments.
This is definitely a problem seeking a prompt resolution but my understanding is that there are companies in the market place that have offerings that can help the military and aviation OEMs resolve the problem. This is underscored in reverse engineering that certain components manufacturers and distributors specialize in.
These companies take components that have gone out or that are about to go out of production and secure the rights to keep them in the market for as long as the equipment maker wants them. The problem, as Mr. Bronson correctly states, is that the price to get this done can be high because volume production may be so low buyers have to pay a premium.
I agree this is a problem. But it doesn't seem to me like there is one cure-all solution.
DBertke makes some very good points and having an Avionics replacement cycle is a good idea in theory, but in practice I just don't see how that will work in all situations.
And that is true that engines and other aircraft components do get swapped out during reasonable time cycles, but those components are designed to be swapped out, unlike electronics. Swapping electronics out is potentially a much more unpredictable and complicated process.
Obviously, electronics also differ from your standard "traditional" parts in that they cannot be physically repaired or uniquely fabricated by a skilled machinist.
Anyhow, it is indeed a difficult problem and while I do agree with the idea of implementing planned replacement cycles, I question how realistic that's going be especially considering that part of the reason this problem exists to begin with is the fact that projects has outlived their expected intended use cycle.
I do agree that it's certainly easier and cheaper to just buy a new radio and throw out the old one even if it still works. But these are some big, expensive, and complicated "radios."
The problem with any electronics substitute is that it would require very costly design evaluation. It is cheaper to stockpile original replacement parts.
I am not aware if there is a grading program for parts and subassemblies and treating them as functional module with very precise specification. Therefore one could change part inside but the external functionality would not change.
Although we can hear time to time that an airplane was modernized with newer systems to perform at higher level. This approach requires design and very costly testing. It is a cheaper approach than designing a new airplane.
Whilst semiconductor technology obsolescence is a cause for long term concern in the support of electronic components.
Today the major thrust of electronics technology development is almost entirely dominated by high volume commercial requirements to satisfy the rapidly expanding market opportunities for video games, personal computers, mobile communication systems and new developments in the automotive industry. The computer and communications industry alone accounts for more than 70% of the market share. Although the military requirement for semiconductor products is now far greater than it has ever been, its share dropped to 0.5% where it is 90% in 1970.
Proactive obsolescence management will require a culture change in both military and defense contractors.
You identified a major problem that is mostly unique to the Aerospace industry. Few other products look at life cycles measured in decades and it is indeed a serious issue.
I think the best way to deal with the problem is to look at a planned technology replacement cycle. The old method of stockpiling components has already proven to be mostly useless, but, if you look at the problem from a Block Cycle view, then a solution presents itself.
When you design the Avionics or any other electronic device, you incorporate the most advanced Aviation grade component you can find. As you pointed out, a lot of the chips are only produced for a handfull of years, so the only reasonable solution is to plan for an Avionics replacement cycle. Set up a group supporting the product and have them prepare a replacement every three or four years with the addition of new components that meet or exceed the now obsolete components in the product they replace.
Using this approach, you put the Avionics on a similar track to the engines and other aircraft components that get swapped out after every several hundred flight hours or years. They essentially do this very effectively with engines, so there is no reason why you cannot do this with the Avionics. It keeps your capability on an increasing track with technology, you continually weed out the obsolete components with each upgrade and it will be less expensive than trying to find or replace a component that no longer exists.
While electronics can work for years without fail, there is no need to hamstring their function by worrying more about how long they last verses when can we replace it with something better, cheaper or more energy efficient. Given the tremendous amount of money being spent on aircraft and avionics maintenance, the industry would be better served by a planned product improvement cycle than the traditional World War II era system we live with today.
One thing that technology has taught us is that it is easier and cheaper to build and toss than it is to keep that old radio around, even if it still works, because some day we may need it and we can no longer find the right batteries. Planned replacement enables the Avionics to maintain a record of excellence and enhanced capability without the extremely long logistics tail we now attach to every aircraft.
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