Rich Fitzgerald, Vice President, Business Operations, Avnet Embedded
About a decade ago, I read the Thomas Friedman book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. When I consider everything currently going on in the military, I think the book should be called, The World Has Been Turned on Its Head.
Today’s military reality centers on speed, flexibility, portability, and an ability to adapt to rapid change. When I was a young military officer, one lesson from my dad really stood out. He said, “Speed can sometimes kill.” That’s a hard lesson to teach military personnel, as the warfighter must adapt to new challenges in the world in real time. And to be clear, designers must plan for all of this in advance. This is where I separate “problems” from “phenomena.”
One of the things I miss most about military life is the way military designers, officers, and most personnel tend to attack problems until they are destroyed. Phenomena have some staying power, and we have a few of those for military designers. With Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) products taking hold in military designs to support cost, portability, and flexibility for the warfighter, some pitfalls need to be addressed. First, communications must be secured due to cyber security concerns. More and more designs require higher levels of software-defined solutions aligned with sophisticated hardware. Preventing breaches is another challenge at the top of the military design list to ensure access remains impenetrable.
In a prior article, I wrote about counterfeiting and end of life parts—especially in COTS designs. With a software-defined world accelerating into the military space, this is one phenomenon engineers must take seriously and attack regularly. Although cost is a continued challenge, do not misinterpret cost savings with improvement: they most likely do not align.
In the new warfighter world, our military designers are doing amazing work to improve our advantage on the global stage, and I’m thankful for their service. I’d ask them to remain vigilant against counterfeiters and secure their devices. I’d also encourage them to remain true to their visions of greatness, and I’d pass on the same words I heard from my dad: “Speed can sometimes kill…”
Doug Patterson, VP, Military & Aerospace Business Sector, Aitech Defense Systems
Component obsolescence is a major issue, and designing with major new components always has caveats. Processors and SDRAM and Flash memories are volatile enough that a design started six months ago may have obsolete parts today with no functional or pin-compatible replacements available. Doing your component homework always pays off in the long run.
Regarding component packaging and thermal or radiation performance, designers have the choice to rely on theoretical versus real-world data. If you must rely on empirical data, you typically need to design, build, and test a prototype, which takes time, energy, and the commitment of valuable money and resources. The best approach is to have more test data available before you commit, however, this is not always practical when developing a leading edge technology.
Detailed signal integrity analysis is getting more complex every day as we approach microwave signal speeds and embedded fiber optics in our PWBs (printed wire boards), but signal integrity tools are also evolving to provide useful ways to manage the signals and their complex impedance interconnections and higher data rates.
Standards play an important role in military applications, but early adopters can face making investments in “trial use” standards with major re-design costs once the standard is approved and ratified. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t; it’s always a calculated risk but a risk nonetheless.
Truly understanding military designs means not only selling boards and leaving the challenges of system integration to the customer to resolve, but also helping customers fix those issues. When confronted with a systems integration problem, designers who opt for the board-only path are still seeing confusion from their suppliers and questions as to where the responsibility ultimately resides. The response too often heard is, “If you’re having system integration problems, it must be with someone else’s products, not ours.” This “you’re on your own” attitude does nothing to help solve the design challenges.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense