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Learning from Success
Monday, January 09, 2012 | Bob Hunt, C-MAC MicroTechnology

Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the November issue of The PCB Magazine.

The electronics industry is experiencing a significant period of change, with modern manufacturing being driven by the demand for high-reliability, lightweight and increasingly complex electronic components. With electronics being at the core of growth, it is vital that manufacturers continue to provide innovative and reliable solutions to address the changing requirements of the industry. To weather the current economic storm, electronics manufacturers need to build on the established markets to which they supply, as well as expand into new areas where proven technologies are of value.

Meeting Existing Demand

Aerospace and defence has long been an area where high-reliability electronic components have played a key role. However, transformational changes have swept across the aerospace and defence arena. The current economic climate has underlined the importance of cost effectiveness--encouraging innovative, cost-saving strategies. According to industry analysts Frost & Sullivan, the nature of operating in the aerospace and defence industry is significantly different from other traditional and commercial markets. Electronics providers face complex manufacturing requirements, very high-quality requirements and low- to ultra-low volume production demands [1]. Growing complexity in product designs and supply chains will elevate providers to the position of a strategic partner.

Frost & Sullivan recently predicted average growth in the commercial avionics market at 5.2% over the next decade [2]. With the worldwide aerospace industry expanding at such a rapid rate, the challenge for manufacturers is to ensure they are positioned to meet increasing demand for reliable, efficient and innovative systems. Ceramic-based circuitry will continue to underpin the electronics for optimum reliability in extreme conditions, and with the particularly stringent quality required from the aerospace industry, it is becoming vital for manufacturers to look for proven ways to adhere to the strict standards and accreditations that products must meet.

Reliability is Key

The majority of electronic components are required to operate in relatively benign environments, functioning well within their design specifications for many years. In contrast, the components and assemblies destined for use in very harsh environments (wide temperature ranges, high-vibration conditions and confined spaces, for example) are often employed in the mission-critical applications where failure could be catastrophic for the system. While everyday electronic components are often discarded without a second thought when they fail, the electronic systems used in aerospace and defence markets must be absolutely reliable to meet the objectives of the mission.    

Aerospace is an industry that necessitates absolute reliability from its electronics--it can genuinely be a matter of life or death on a day-to-day basis. For hermetic products, this is reflected in the rigorous tests insisted on by military standards such as MIL-PRF-38534 and MIL-STD-883. The engineering teams responsible for compliance with these standards must maintain pace with the fast-developing packaging technologies and implement comprehensive electronic test and qualification regimes. 

For those companies that are able to produce the high-quality, high-reliability products required by the aerospace and defence industries, new avenues are opening up, as other industries look for electronic components that can function in extremely harsh environments.

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