A common feeling among many designers and users of military electronic systems is nostalgia. Nostalgia for the good old days when the electronics industry was almost the exclusive supply chain of the military. While almost all aspects of integrated circuits (ICs) have improved over the past few decades (better, faster, cheaper), many in the military still long for the day when almost every semiconductor device on the market met or exceed their requirements without even asking.
Warranty costs can be the bane of hardware companies. Think about it. One of the great benefits of a software company (whether it’s the old fashioned standalone software on a disk or the more common webservices) is no warranty. Facebook does not have any set asides for warranty claims, which can run into the billions of dollars for some companies. Billions of dollars doing nothing but acting as insurance.
With today’s rapid product development cycles and time-to-market pressures, there’s not always time to perform reliability testing. This situation leaves many manufacturers with the question of how to ensure their products will be dependable when reliability testing and the possible resulting re-engineering are too time consuming or expensive.
Electronic systems may often fail, not because of poorly designed chips, substrates or other components, but because of the failure of the solder joints that link them all together. The mismatch between PCB solder materials can result in thermal expansion problems including excessive strain, cracking and open circuits. The impact of thermal fatigue, soldering defects, vibration and residual strains must be considered when analyzing solder reliability. These and other issues are often exposed in accelerated stress tests.
The electronics industry continues to experience setbacks caused by conformal coatings and potting materials. Failures modes are wide-ranging, but mitigation is possible by selecting the right materials, using new tools and techniques in modeling and accurately predicting potential failures.
NASA and the aerospace industry tenaciously pursue safety measures. The effect of various environmental factors on electronics components poses a reliability challenge for many engineers here on earth, let alone at 40,000 feet or in deep space. Components in development undergo rigorous qualification processes and extended test cycles, often repeated at extreme parametric limits and under harsh environmental conditions, and the price can be excessive.
Automakers like Ford, GM, Volvo and Tesla made major strides in 2016 for autonomous vehicle technology, and are closer to making driverless cars a reality for the average consumer. Meanwhile, Uber made news when they introduced self-driving fleets to the public. While driverless cars may not be pulling into most driveways in the immediate future, it’s clear the race is on.