How to Best Solve the PCB Space Component Supply Dilemma

In the digital age in which we live, security is a major concern for everyone. No one wants hackers having access to their personal information and governments fiercely guard internal information and correspondences. This is also true for businesses as they strive to keep proprietary data and information safe. For some industries, however, cybersecurity is but one (and possibly not the most important) security issue to deal with. In the aerospace industry, for example, supply chain management and control is of primary concern.

Supply chain stages

Supply chain management (SCM)

Why is the security of the components and products used in aerospace applications so critical? Well, even though watching a sunrise or gazing at the stars can be angelic, the sun is dangerous and space is a harsh environment. We are approximately 150,000,000 km (≅ 93,000,000 mi) from the sun and still require protection, primarily provided by the ozone layer, from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. The sun also produces solar flares, one of the major sources of space radiation harmful to electronics.

When sending space vehicles and orbitals such as satellites into space, we do so knowing that any board failures could be catastrophic for the mission. Therefore, it is critical that all components are vetted to ensure successful and reliable operation. Traditionally, achieving this objective has meant strict oversight of the PCB component supply chain. The recent commercialization of space, sometimes referred to as the new space race, has brought with it new ideas about component procurement, including the use of COTS components. For aerospace engineers and developers, this creates a dilemma for board development. Let’s explore this space PCB component supply dilemma in more depth. This understanding can then be used to devise the best solution for your aerospace PCBA development.

What is the Space PCB Component Supply Dilemma?

As a designer of circuit boards, one of the first decisions that you are faced with is what components to use. Your choices affect virtually every aspect of your board design. Due to this level of impact, optimizing component selection should be a major objective for all PCBA development. When designing boards for aerospace industry usage, there is a greater responsibility. That is ensuring that the boards and the process of developing and producing them are aerospace-ready.

As components are the elements that define and provide the functionality of your PCBA, the selection, procurement, assembly, and operation of your board’s components must adhere to the quality management system (QMS) regulations put forth in AS9100D. This means meeting the requirements for aerospace component manufacturing. In order to meet these standards, the PCB component supply chain must be managed to ensure that no counterfeit components wind up on the boards, the components will function reliably for the mission duration and withstand the harsh environmental conditions they may encounter.

Achieving the mandatory goals set by AS9100D and other pertinent aerospace regulations and standards necessitates that a secure and manageable PCB component supply chain be established and maintained. This presents you with a choice of whether to follow the more traditional supply chain model or institute the newer COTS model. Let’s take a look at the attributes of these two options:

AEROSPACE PCB COMPONENT SUPPLY MANAGEMENT ATTRIBUTES

TRADITIONAL MODEL

VERSUS

COTS MODEL

Traceable to the original source

Security

Traceable to the OEM

Verifiable

Quality

Not verified

Proven for registered components

Reliability

Proven for previously used components

Typically, limited

Availability

Typically, abundant

Slow

New Component

Approval Speed

Fast

Higher due to development and initial testing requirements

Cost

Cheaper*

* In some cases, it may be necessary to send lots of unproven components for Destructive Physical Analysis (DPA) that will substantially add to the cost. 

The table above is not to be taken as applicable for every component that may be used in an aerospace application. Instead, it is intended to illustrate the attributes for what may be considered common aerospace components and used in space communications, monitoring, control, telemetry, and power distribution systems. Although, for specialized components, the COTS option is not available, when it can be used there are clear advantages to using COTS components, as listed in the table.

What is the Best PCB Component Supply Solution for You?

The natural question to ask is what is the best option: the traditional or COTS model? If only the answer was that simple. The fact is that there is no generic “right” answer to this question. Instead, the answer is application-specific. In other words, the best PCB component supply solution is dependent upon the type of boards, electronics, or systems that you are developing or supporting.

As an example, all space platforms are subject to experience ionizing radiation, including alpha, beta, gamma, and galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), which may be present at low-earth orbit (LEO) and medium-earth orbit (MEO) atmospheric levels. As these radiation particles can penetrate the hull of space vehicles, certain components or boards may require radiation hardening. Making components and devices rad-hard means additional testing and costs; therefore, these may need to be developed traditionally. On the other hand, the number of companies that stock some of the more heavily used components is increasing, which negates the possibility of component shortages and makes COTS component usage attractive. Ultimately, finding the solution to the space PCB component supply dilemma starts by asking the following questions:

QUESTIONS

Is availability, speed of development or cost the primary factor for your component supply solution?
Will using COTS components, in fact, reduce costs and/or increase development speed?
Are COTS components that meet your functionality requirements available?
If available, have COTS components been space-tested for the environment in which your system will be deployed?
Can the COTS components be used and you remain in compliance with all pertinent regulations and standards; in particular, AS9100D? 

If you can answer YES to all of the questions listed above, then a COTS solution is likely the best choice for your space PCB component supply dilemma. When designing boards for space, you need a CM partner to support your aerospace PCB development that is experienced and qualified.

Tempo's Custom Avionics for PCB Manufacturing Service
  • AS9100D and IPC J-STD-001E with Space Addendum certified manufacturing processes.
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600 and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Execute your full development cycle from proto to validation, NPI, and low volume production.
  • Accurate quote in less than a day.
  • DFX support, including DFM, DFA, and DFT from Day 1 of design.
  • Entire turnkey PCB manufacturing in as fast as 4 days.
  • Extreme space environment targeted manufacturing.
  • Use reputable components suppliers to ensure quality, security and traceability.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during PCB assembly to ensure quality for prototyping.

Tempo Automation, the industry leader in fast, high-quality PCBA prototyping and low-volume production, is a certified, experienced CM for the aerospace industry that will work with throughout development, beginning on day 1.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium Designer or Cadence Allegro user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software. For Mentor Pads or other design packages, we furnish DRC information in other CAD formats and Excel.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on space component supply, contact us.

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