Following a directive from the US military in the early 1990s, the defense industry made a shift from using custom embedded electronic components made to military specifications to commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components. Since the overall share of the DoD as a consumer was expected to shrink over time, this move to reduce costs took a practical […]
Saying that something is “good enough for government work” is often meant as a joke and the reference implies “mediocre work.” The irony is that “government work” is often highly sophisticated; systems are designed and engineered to operate in the most extreme environmental conditions for a very long period of time.
I recently had the pleasure of having lunch with a talented component engineer who has spent much of his career working in the defense industry. During the course of our discussion I learned that some aviation systems need ICs to operate in temperature extremes ranging from -55°C to 125°C; ground units often travel in harsh environmental conditions (e.g. fighting extreme heat and sand storms in deserts) while being exposed to hostile attacks; satellites traveling through orbit are exposed to protons and heavy ions from solar flares, yet must operate reliably in space.
Managing components at risk of going EOL requires proactive planning. If this vital step is not implemented, critical systems run into increased risk of exposure to counterfeits. Two topics that program managers never want to hear about are counterfeit components, and end-of-life (EOL). While it is possible to come across counterfeit components on active products, this risk can generally be mitigated by implementing smart buying practices, such as purchasing from a franchised distribution line or directly from the original component manufacturer (OCM). Unfortunately, as components go EOL, yet are still needed in critical systems, they become difficult to find and increasingly more expensive. These facts combined with often careless buying practices, leave the embedded supply chain exposed to counterfeit components. These risks only increase as systems age.
Throughout my work with GDCA and all the issues around obsolescence, I have never come across someone who believes that obsolescence is something to be celebrated and welcomed. Everything associated with obsolescence is considered something to be avoided.
The concept of planned obsolescence brings with it connotations of either designing a product to wear out too soon or creating something newer and better to encourage people to upgrade. Forced obsolescence brings connotations of scrambling to source the parts that will keep legacy systems sustainable and having to redesign or recertify systems not yet ready to upgrade.
Between Section 818 in the NDAA FY12 and the NDAA FY13 Amendment, the defense industry is highly aware of the risks of counterfeit components in the supply chain. As a rule, logistics teams know not to purchase parts off EBay but from authorized sources, or purchase directly from the manufacturer. They know about the SAE standards AS5553 and AS6081 for business processes and they know about guidelines for purchasing and authenticating components.
In general, defense sustainment and counterfeit avoidance has been left to DMSMS teams and logistics or engineering tactics. However, so far the solution has primarily been to develop standards, authentication and anti-counterfeit technologies. These responses have been critical, but have largely remained reactive and have not produced the dynamic collaboration crucial to maintaining a healthy, proactive supply chain. Instead, each player is left facing inward — focusing on solutions from their own particular positions in the supply chain — but without the resources to truly be proactive.
In the past we’ve talked about the challenges of Last-time Buy and overstock. In Dr. Sandborn’s CALCE Obsolescence Management training, this question illustrates the challenges and risks in regards to what customers can face, at the time of EOL. The answer might be easy if you were looking at a “bridge buy”, where you only need enough to get you to the point of a planned upgrade. If I had to only buy shoes to get me through five years it would be challenging but I could probably come up with a pretty good estimate based on the last five years of my life.
How End-of-Life sometimes feels…
No matter what your opinion; DNA tagging is currently one of the top methods being discussed to ensure component authentication. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) even issued a Request for Information on the subject.
Unfortunately, due to the costs projected and associated with DNA tagging and authentication, few businesses appear to be looking forward to the prospect.
At first glance DNA tagging, like many of the industry’s current solutions, makes sense: increase the complexity of the marks so that counterfeiters are unable reproduce it. DNA would be a “tag” both difficult and expensive to try and recreate. However, DNA tagging and many of the solutions being proposed are “point forward” solutions that, in order to be truly effective, would need to be implemented at the component manufacturing level, not once parts have left the factory floor.
According to the EPA, although electronic waste (or sometimes known as “e-waste”) is less than 10% of the current solid waste stream, it is growing 2-3 times faster than any other waste stream. In 2005 an estimated 26-37 million computers became obsolete and the Consumer Electronics Association reported that roughly 304 million electronics—were removed from US households.
E-waste impacts the international community in many ways. New innovations in industrial and commercial technology have forced obsolescence in equipment like computers, mobile phones and televisions, and refrigerators. As consumers keep up with changing trends, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) estimates that 20-50 million metric tons of e-waste are generated each year and much of this electronic waste gets shipped overseas to developing areas in Asia, Africa, and South America.