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How to End Military/Aero Supply Problems

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.

16 comments on “How to End Military/Aero Supply Problems

  1. Daniel
    August 9, 2011

    Joseph, selection of components for the military and aerospace application is a very cumbersome process and atmost care have to beeen taken care. In such industries Quality of the components are one of the main factor and all the components have to undergo various types of tastings and standards. Vibration test, Radiation test, Thermal tests are some of the important tests, where the performance of each components are to be monitored. This is because most of the components are used for mission critical applications.

  2. prabhakar_deosthali
    August 9, 2011

    The components used in Military/Aero applications are different in terms of the temperature range/ radiation immunity, vibration and such other factors. Hence the manufacturers have to set up separate production lines for them anyway. So how can they be linked to the commercial grade component volumes?

    The manufacturing of the military/Aero grade components will always be a low volume one, right from the inception of these components. The manufacturers producing such components are very well aware of their low volume, long life cycle requirement.

    So I do not understand how these components also vanish alongwith the commercial grade components.

    Are we mixing the two issues? Or is it that the manufacturers are using the commercial obsolesance ploy to hide away these military grade components, create scarcity  and jack up their prices?

  3. FLYINGSCOT
    August 9, 2011

    I agree with the sentiment of this article but as a semicon supplier it is sometimes just not viable to maintain the older silicon fabs that are required to produce the older parts.  I suppose if we worked hand in glove with the military customer we could proactively design new products to replace the older ones but the military is notorious for now wanting to requalify their products.  It can also be prohibitively expensive to follow this strategy.  I would welcome a stronger relationship to avoid “last time buys” but so far we have not been able to achieve this.

  4. jbond
    August 9, 2011

    @prabhakar

    I agree with you. From my understanding of most military and aerospace products, they are built and designed with different specs and limitations. If these are designed for the military, how does the sale of the lesser grade commercial parts affect supply of the military/aerospace parts? It does seem like this is maybe a ploy to make more money on the low volume sales.

     

  5. Eldredge
    August 9, 2011

    Sometimes component manufacturers resolve the problem of differing environmental specs not by two production lines or methods, but by sorting the product through testing, either in-house or by using the services of a screening house.

  6. bolaji ojo
    August 9, 2011

    Jennifer, There's a higher cost to a company if the volume shipment is low and I can expect that such a manufacturer would try to find ways to increase its margins. This is applicable in the military/aero market where there are fewer potential customers and a product can be designed for a buyer only if they agree to pay a higher premium. This is a problem that can be resolved through a strong partnership but again, cost is an issue.

  7. ddeisz
    August 9, 2011

    Joseph,

    I think I would emphasize how much more the semiconductor suppliers are focussed on the commercial businesses. At this point, for almost all semiconductor OCMs, military business is more of a by-product of the commercial space that has to come without new silicon products (at the die level) or not at all. The testing, packaging, documentation, and certainly performance ranges all change.

    I would add that many semiconductor OCM's are hesitant to work with SLiM's because of the fear their own engineering will be tapped in any way. Every leading-edge semiconductor OCM has a horror story they bring out at a time when they just don't want to deal with a lower volume market like Mil/Aero. This fear can be overcome and has been overcome with some, but not most. Both our companies aim to improve those odds and it is getting better all the time.

    Well written,

    Dan Deisz

    Rochester Electronics

  8. garyk
    August 9, 2011

    Lets only look at Multilayer Ceramic Capacitors. More and more capacitors are being produce off shore. The larger company's have move commerical manufacturing off shore and these capacitors are the small SMT style.  The Military capacitors reqiure different electrode system and usually must meet various TC/VTC and electrical requirements. Maintaining these manufacturing system is not profitale in the US, thanks to the off shore manufacturing and RoHS compliant chips. RoHs Compliant and Military chips require two different manufacturing systems. 

  9. KPorter
    August 9, 2011

    @prabhakar_deosthali – 

    The problems around Mil/Aero supply, when it comes to maintaining technology, has a couple of facets; Moore's Law, and economy.

    Depending on the industry we're talking about (I can only speak from the embedded systems side of thing), as technology has advanced, it has given Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) the ability to make their parts smaller, faster, and cheaper. We no longer need a whole room for our computers, now we have more advanced technology in our “smart phones” than we did in the original lunar landing. You'll see a lot about this in writings around Moore's Law.

    Because innovation, has rapidly driven the market towards smaller, more inexpensive, faster, cutting edge technology, manufacturers are needing to stay on top of R&D to stay competitive. Yes, there has been an industry cloud around the ideas of planned obsolescence, and competitive obsolescence (one is driven by the provider, the other driven by the consumer upgrades).

    Here's where Mil/Aero splits from “consumer” capital equipment – in theory, a private buyer of capital equipment can reinvest in upgrading their systems, faster than the government can.  Mil/Aero are still using systems that are 30+ years old.  At one point, when there was money to spare for things like Last Time Buys (LTBs), the buyer could purchase and stock the amount they would need to repair, replace, and maintain a mission-critical system.

    So the Mil/Aero niche is smaller than the private industry, and needs to last longer than the private sector has (generally) demanded… and OEMs are pressed to stay cutting-edge and innovative, to prevent their own obsolescence.

    Now, there are companies like the one I work with, that will handle most of the obsolescence-prevention, and legacy technology management for our clients. We also partner with OEMs to help maintain their customer-loyalty by providing all the ongoing support, repair and manufacturing for specific systems. Through doing this, our Mil/Aero clients know that if the need RoHS re-design, we can do that, but otherwise what they're getting is the exact certified, non-counterfeit parts they need, for as long as they need them.

    …but it's a niche.. not something that would work for most OEMs in a general sense, and is an added value to their customers and clients.

  10. prabhakar_deosthali
    August 10, 2011

    So it looks like the real issue is with the distributors who do not want to keep such long life cycle items in their inventory for long because of the costs involved in maintaining those stocks. And especially if there are no guarantess from Military customers on the off-take quanties of such components.

    The manufacturers obviously will move to newer technology to keep up with the world and especially in electronics this pace is too fast.

    The best way  for the military customers is  to buy the required spares along with the initial buy and keep them in their captive stock. 

    But  for some components whose shelf life may be shorter than their operating life , keeping them in stock for long will degrade their performance. The military customers have to identify such parts and plan scheduled replacement of such parts by the new design parts (e.g  capacitors )

  11. ddeisz
    August 10, 2011

    Not all distributors are the same when it comes to keeping long life-cycle parts in inventory, especially when it comes to parts with low turns like the mil/aero market. Rochester Electronics is just that kind of specialist and arguably the largest authorized long life-cycle supplier in the world.

  12. _hm
    August 11, 2011

    There is associated risk in selecting mil-aero parts. This risk can mitigated with employing COTS parts. They are lower in cost, multiple vendor parts and has long life cycle. Next choice should be QPL parts with dual vendor or generic part definition. For more dedicate parts like FPGA etc., one can also ask supplier for product life cycle time. e.g. Xilinx has that for 15 years and TI much longer. If one is empying ASIC or hybrids, they must try to secure IP for it for future product or revrse engineering. This is also true for FPGA IP cores. The xet best soltion for obsolete part is F3I replacement.

     

     

  13. ddeisz
    August 12, 2011

    “risk can be mitigated with employing COTS parts.””…long life cycle.”

    Really? Where's the proof in that?

    The answer from any supplier regarding life cycle could be any number they wanted and who could blame them? In reality it is how long the market pays to their justification threshold with each supplier and each product line being different. No number is generically applicable to an entire supplier and all their product lines. That is a very poor assumption to be made.

    Going forward, fewer and fewer products will have generic part definitions and be F3I replacement-capable. Take a look at new semiconductor active product (as opposed to passives) and see how few parts will be QPL with just dual vendors. It's not a good long-term strategy.

    When you are asking your semiconductor supplier their life cycle plans while promising them low-volume opportunities, aren't you talking to a sales person with a vested interest in selling the latest and at the very least keeping an existing socket? Who you are talking to at the semiconductor supplier and who is doing the talking makes every bit of difference in the outcome. A solid relationship with an authorized long-term supplier provides the best risk mitigation for mil-aero parts.

    Dan Deisz

    Rochester Electronics

  14. _hm
    August 12, 2011

    @Dan,

    I like to differ you from your opinion. I have dealt with Xilinx, TI and many more vendors. It takes time get reply from them, however, they do confirm in writing from VP Marketing the life of device to supported (They also highlight their past and current history to backup their claims) I got those email for both VirtexII PRo VP40 and its configuration PROM. TI is the most reupted organization and they do supply part for much longer then 15 years. This is also true for many other vendors.

    It is lots of research work for this type of work. It is not work for sales person. They do not know most of thing. Do you know you can get pin replaceble ASIC for Xilinx VII Pro? Take this exrcise and find out from where? This is type of work good design engineers do. In my project, we were able optimize design with only two parts without dual vendor. This is the requirement from US DoD and we did it.

     

  15. ddeisz
    August 12, 2011

    I'll stand by what I said. Every product line and every vendor has a different timeline for when they go EOL/LTB. No one number apllies across all product lines at a semiconductor supllier. That was my point. Saying that COTS is good for risk mitigation didn't make sense at the component level.

    Sounds like you solved a difficult problem when it was foisted upon you regarding Virtex II Pro. Functionality for the Virtex II Pro in an ASIC is something people can do. Precise IO edge-rate matching (not just delay) and power matching is something else entirely and the number of people who can do that (or do that routinely) is much more limited. We do that and more at Rochester when we recreate a part. More people need to view all the parameters when it comes to “pin replaceable” claims.

    Glad your solution worked,

    Dan

  16. _hm
    August 12, 2011

    Rochester Electroincs is one of the most admirable supplier. I have used them in late 80s for Taylor Isntruments, Rochester and in 90s for ABB Instruments. In recent past, we also procurred few hi-rel parts for Canadian space program too. Mitigating risk for Defence and space program is art and lots of effort. I wish Rochester work more in this area of need.

     

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