Life cycle management, semiconductor re-creation, and mitigating counterfeit parts
Obsolescence management continues to be a challenge for military system designers, who are faced with designing for platforms that must last decades but using components that become obsolete in 18 months. In the following Q and A with Daniel Deisz, Director of Design Technology at Rochester Electronics, he discusses how Department of Defense (DoD) planners need to build in life cycle management costs in projects up front, the advantages of authorized re-creation or porting of semiconductor components for extending the life of parts, the importance of testing for aftermarket solutions, and how best to mitigate the spread of counterfeit components in the defense supply chain. Edited excerpts follow.
DEISZ: I am the Director of Design Technology at Rochester Electronics. Our team is responsible for all new silicon designs. When inventory of any kind no longer exists (finished goods, original wafer stock, etc) and significant customer demand still exists for a product, we do the porting of the original design to an existing foundry under the full authorization of the original component manufacturer.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Obsolescence continues to be one of the most critical challenges for military electronics suppliers as the platforms they support need to last decades while commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components sometimes have only 18-month life cycles. Has the military industry improved its planning for obsolescence since COTS first was mentioned nearly 25 years ago? Where does Rochester fit in this process?
DEISZ: It is true that some COTS components have relatively short lifecycles. In general, these tend to be simpler devices such as flash memory and some select IoT [Internet of Things] devices. If you look at the dramatic increase in semiconductor content for the automobile as an example and the requirements those manufacturers have for lifetime assurance, there are many key “heartbeat products” that need greater than 15-year life [cycles]. These “heartbeat products” are what most influence the software of a system.
One of the challenges we see within the military contractor community is that they generally operate independent of one another. Even within the same company, things can be compartmentalized by program. Unfortunately, this can limit the communication and alignment across platforms that might otherwise limit the exposure to broad EOL [end-of-life]. For example, if all the major programs within a specific military contractor were to focus on the same core technologies and product families, they might be in a better position to work with the OCMs [original component manufacturers] to ensure extended life cycles for the products. This could either be directly from the component manufacturer or through a planned transition to a partner like Rochester Electronics who can take over manufacturing and fulfillment in a seamless way to avoid component availability gaps.
In addition to ensuring ongoing availability, the other obvious benefit to alignment on component designs is the aggregated volumes that would create better pricing leverage which benefits the taxpayers.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Can you please go more in depth on the re-creation services you offer.
DEISZ: Fully authorized recreation or porting (sometimes referred to as replication or cloning) are what we do today. We start with OCM authorization and any available OCM databases and take it from there. Each project is different based on what is available at the start. If the product can be ported, we go about doing that at the GDS2 [Graphic Design System 2] physical-design level. That’s the difference in what we do versus somebody who isn’t authorized or doesn’t have access to the OCM database. Starting with the GDS2 enables us to map every single transistor, resistor, capacitor, and analog function to another foundry at the physical-design level. We are not emulating. We are not creating new errata.
Additionally, through an extensive license agreement with Broadcom (it was LSI Logic at the time), we use their legacy 5-volt and 3.3-volt gate-array technologies to address legacy voltage ASIC [application-specific integrated circuit] or legacy voltage FPGA [field-programmable gate array] solutions to give our customers long-term solutions at legacy voltages they cannot get today. Our license agreement gives us all their design tools and source technology libraries to enable this solution.
Finally, in 2019, we are doing system-design analysis for long-term product viability. By reviewing a customer’s entire system design and understanding their long-term needs for that system, Rochester creates a detailed report. This report goes beyond what a simple bill-of-materials tool can tell you and dives into board-level design, design archives, and component selection. After performing this analysis for multiple avionics customers, we believe there is a real need for long-term product line owners to truly understand the long-term system viability.
MIL-EMBEDDED: How important is the testing aspect with these solutions?
DEISZ: In parallel to design, we must ensure a solid test solution. We have been able to secure the OCM test program for most of our porting projects. These test solutions go far beyond datasheet testing found at most test houses today. These are the golden test programs that caught every single failure in high volume at the OCMs. The complexity of a thorough and reliable test solution is sometimes overlooked. For example, if a broker sells into DoD and says they have tested the parts, we know it was not with the OCM test program. At best, it was a datasheet test and hopefully it covered all the parameters in some fashion. These tests are not as comprehensive as the OCM test program and there is significant risk of escapes in these products that the OCM test program would have caught.
MIL-EMBEDDED: The DoD budget has increased each year under the Trump administration. How does the healthier defense market affect the military aftermarket suppliers? Does it go hand in hand with the overall defense electronics industry or does the aftermarket industry’s growth depend on different factors?
DEISZ: Theoretically, more DoD spending should benefit everyone who supplies products that go into DoD systems that get funding. In terms of the aftermarket industry, it really depends on how those funds are being allocated. If it is used for sustaining legacy platforms, then the aftermarket suppliers would likely benefit. If the funding is allocated to more redesigns and new programs, then the OCMs and their authorized partners would see more of that boost. Overall, the military business is not the largest market for the aftermarket industry as a whole and is not growing as quickly as other markets.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Counterfeit-part mitigation also continues to be a challenge, even with the DoD’s increased focus on it. Has the problem gotten worse or better?
DEISZ: Rochester Electronics is a founding member of the Anti-Counterfeit Task Force of the SIA [Semiconductor Industry Association] and we are 100 percent committed working with suppliers and customers to ensure a fully authorized source of supply.
We have been pleased to see the largest military contractors taking measures to improve how they purchase product. Their efforts have undoubtedly reduced the number of counterfeit products they are seeing, as evidenced by GIDEP [Government Industry Data Exchange Program] reporting and statistics. Unfortunately, the further down the supply chain you get, the more risk we see for counterfeit products to enter military programs and boards.
MIL-EMBEDDED: What is the best way to mitigate the spread of counterfeit parts?
DEISZ: Clearly, the most important thing to do is always buy directly from the component manufacturers or through their authorized distribution partners. As we discussed earlier, component selection up front can have a big impact when it is known a system will be around for a long time. Choose your architectures and components carefully and align with higher volume long-term markets whenever possible. In terms of supporting products through the EOL cycle, it is critical to partner with an authorized aftermarket supplier like Rochester Electronics.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Is the DNA marking of semiconductor parts with plant DNA tomitigate counterfeit parts – mandated by the DLA at the Defense Supply Center Columbus (DSCC), in Columbus, Ohio – still a controversy or a thing of the past?
DEISZ: Now that DSCC marks their own parts, DNA marking is not an issue. We don’t believe it does anything except help DSCC determine where the parts came from when they mix inventories in their own supply chain. Traceability was a real problem they needed to solve, but they took it too far trying to mandate out to the supply chain for implementation.
MIL-EMBEDDED: What other markets does Rochester support and how do they compare in terms of requirements to the military market?
DEISZ: We support every market with long-life cycle product(s). These are markets with a high resistance to change/redesign due to cost, time, resources, and/or regulation that says if you do change, here is the criteria is to make that change. Example, the FAA or FDA: The military market is the market everyone thinks of, because the DoD is still flying B-52s that went into service when Eisenhower was the President. No, this life cycle issue in the semiconductor industry extends into the entire global infrastructure of markets and products.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Looking forward, what technology or solution will be a game changer for obsolescence management for the military electronics industry? Predict the future.
DEISZ: The game changer could be when contracts are inked and systems are designed with maintenance costs factored into that design up front and OEMs are rewarded for designing systems that don’t require a tech refresh after less than 25 percent of the system life. In the shorter term, collaboration and communication across programs and even contractors could allow for better designs which have some commonality. This would allow for better long-term engagements with the OCMs and help ensure availability through authorized channels.
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