Military power conversion: the value of strategic customization (Part 2)

As the military-electronics industry continues to transition toward commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products, established standards, and modular designs, the need for tailored solutions remains – there is a middle ground. In this, Part 2 of a two-part blog series, several examples are discussed where customization of power supplies provides a discrete yet obvious advantage to the design engineer to meet performance specifications.

The benefits of defined design standards are numerous, especially in support of open-architecture system designs reducing life cycle costs and development time. However, the ability to deviate from design standards can be a priceless aid for engineers in order to meet the unique performance requirements prevalent in military platforms. Let’s look at a few real-world examples of this approach in practice.

Example one: varying output voltage and current

An engineer wants to make use of a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product with its baseline capabilities, but the specification requires specific output voltage and current levels to effectively support their rugged, single-board computer (SBC) and storage cards within the enclosure via custom backplane design. Rather than accepting the suboptimal COTS product and sacrificing the capability or performance of their existing design, the engineer should request to speak with the power supply manufacturer’s design team. After learning about the target specification, the manufacturer’s design team sets forth to rapidly implement the necessary changes to support the integration of those peripherals, providing a customized power supply that continues to comply with the vast majority of industry standards. Adjusting the outputs to meet the customer’s unique current and voltage requirements is a low-cost, low-risk, and rapid solution to enable system-level performance.

Leveraging the proven performance of a mature design, this approach allows the engineer to successfully achieve qualification of the system upon first attempt and leverage the unique backplane de-sign. While the COTS product was 90% of the solution, rapid tailoring of the product to the needs of this customer ultimately addresses the unique needs of the warfighter without significant changes to system, cost, or delivery timeline. The intent of the DoD’s MOSA program can be addressed with architectures, such as Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA)-aligned system designs.

To further this point, modifying the mature design to pro-vide increased voltage and current limits at these three out-puts, and deviating from the VITA standard, ensures a second power supply was not required within the enclosure. This not only saved the cost of a second power supply, but also saves an open card slot to support integration of future product enhancements and capabilities. This is an excellent case study of how customization does not need to be considered risky or expensive, and sticking with the VITA VPX standards to ensure an open architecture at the system level can significantly drive life cycle costs and development time down for the end user component versus system requirements.

Standardization is an industry trend providing positive results for both the cost and schedule of defense programs, large and small. A fine balance between component-level specifications and system-level specifications is a key aspect in any engineering effort. An excellent example of a component-level specification is the VITA 62 VPX standard defining electrical connector parameters, including voltage and current levels. Standards, such as MIL-STD-1275, may be applied at either a component level or system level, to control 28 VDC electrical power in a military ground platform.

It can be stated that industry appreciates and values standards, at both the component and system level. How-ever, it is often necessary to deviate from the standard to meet 100% of both component- and system-level requirements. Every system on the battlefield poses a unique set of challenges, forcing design engineers to make difficult decisions impacting cost, schedule, and risk. Customization to meet open architecture standards can be done in a cost-effective and schedule-driven environment.

Example two: unique mechanical and thermal management challenges

In this example, the engineer’s requirement includes the need to incorporate a redundant AC power connector into a 3U VPX power supply. This takes customization of a baseline VPX power supply one step further than our previous example, tailoring both mechanical and thermal de-sign features.

In this instance, a customization effort similarly reduces risk while incorporating important capabilities at a system level. As before, the project starts with the engineer identifying a mature COTS solution that closely matches the specifications they’re looking for, then engaging with the manufacturer’s design team to discuss the unique specifications of their requirement compared to this COTS product. In this example, the mechanical housing can be quickly designed around the board to address the redundant input power requirements (a second connector compliant to MIL-STD-38999) at the system level. This approach not only addresses the redundant AC power connector requirement, but also allows for improved thermal management while ensuring the integration of other COTS VPX peripheral cards. (Figure 1.)

Figure 1 | A customized VPX solution. Image: Milpower Source.

With close communication and collaboration with the manufacturer, it is realistic to complete the above design modifications and rapidly develop and test prototypes within 60 days. At the end of this exercise, a design review provides the engineer with enough confidence and data on the modified VPX power supply to begin design modifications to the enclosure and backplane to accommodate the added connector. Starting from an existing and mature MIL-VPX product that addressed a large percentage of the power supply performance specification was a no-nonsense and schedule-driven decision that enables the engineer to obtain a 100% solution for their requirement.

Considering our earlier example, a VPX form factor SBC required 360 W of power, exceeding the VITA 62 standard for the VS2 connector contact. While deviating from the VITA electrical standard, the desired 3U mechanical form factor is not changed, ensuring an open architecture system and retention of the benefits of the VPX form factor.

Further, following SOSA-aligned design practices ensures the ability to maximize COTS components within the enclosure – the best of both worlds. At a system level, a standardized chassis and backplane can be maintained, along with use of peripheral devices, reducing total lifecycle costs and maximizing the intended nature of standardized enclosure designs. Supporting both component- and system-level requirements is achievable by tailoring the design of standard products, which can be done in an expedited and cost-effective manner, significantly decreasing risk and keeping the project on course with existing delivery and cost projections.

Example three: EMC and standardization

In the ever-evolving world of defense electronics, higher power densities, increasing current and faster switching, and EMC continues to be one of the most challenging endeavors of the system designer. Modern power switches offer significantly higher switching speeds. This means that the rise and fall times for both voltage and current waveforms are much shorter – a root cause of many electromagnetic interference (EMI) issues in switching power supply design.

As such, solutions to address the litany of EMI challenges need to remain agile and creative when it comes to power supply design. Standardization on the other hand, encourages repeatability and de-incentivizes change. To solve EMI issues, customization is a key element in the toolbox of the design engineer, especially in keeping with the DoD’s intent of maintaining an open-architecture approach.

To qualify a power supply, it is tested in cascade with a line impedance stabilization network (LISN) to standardize test results and simulate the run of cables feeding the tested item. Typically, power supplies installed in small platforms are allowed to be tested with low inductance LISN, so they will not become unstable and oscillate.

However, in scenarios where long cable runs are prevalent, the standard 50 μH must be used. In this example, an engineer identifies a COTS 350 W DC/DC converter for integration into their airborne application. After engaging with the manufacturer’s design team, the engineer states that the converter must be tested for compliance with MIL-STD-461F when connected to the power line through 50 μH LISNs. The design team modifies the existing COTS product design by integrating a larger bulk capacitance to help support the 50 μH inductance requirement. Again, deviating from the VITA 62 electrical standard to rapidly address a unique EMC requirement, a close partnership with the manufacturer’s design team enables the engineer to identify a schedule-friendly, low-risk solution.

Powering nonstandard loads with standard power supplies

The standard VPX chassis is commonly used by integrators as an enclosure for a wide variety of applications, including radar, electronic warfare, communications, and more. Each application brings its own unique set of performance and operational requirements. In this example, an engineer needs a VPX power supply to feed a radar load, made up of digital circuits (signal conditioner), analog low power circuits (preamplifier), and analog high-power circuits (power amplifier). The form factor and connector are standard VITA 62 and 46, but the output voltages and current limits are completely different, with odd voltage levels, such as 6 VDC for the GPS board, 5.5 VDC for the wideband amplifier, and 28 VDC for the power amplifier. Not only are the voltage values not standardized, the digital and analog outputs’ return paths are required to be iso-lated from one another.

Leveraging an existing COTS product enables a manufacturer’s design team to tailor the output voltages according to the requirement and separate the outputs into two isolated groups. This design approach helps the customer achieve a complete radar design with an integrated power solution in a single VPX chassis, all of which can be completed in a short schedule of less than three months from engagement to delivery, and aligning to recent open architecture acquisition directives, such as SOSA and MOSA.

Balancing customization with standardization

We’ve presented several examples where customization of power supplies provides a discrete yet obvious advantage to the design engineer to meet performance specifications. Whether it be saving a card slot in a chassis, reducing the number of power supplies required, or addressing a unique EMC requirement, customization can reduce total system cost and technical risk to put increased capabilities rapidly into the hands of the warfighter. It also provides a pathway to support the DoD’s open-architecture standards. Customization is available within the defense power supply market; engineers should heed industry trends to improve standardization while understanding the value of customization. When approached strategically, it can be a cost-effective and low-risk approach to address requirements.

Mike Eyre is Global Marketing Manager at Milpower Source in Belmont, New Hampshire.

Milpower Source ·

Check out Part 1 of this two-part blog series.