Rochester Electronics’ VP design technology, Dan Deisz, highlights the importance of addressing obsolescence risks while a system’s design process is at the definition phase.
Understanding the risks associated with component selection during the design and product definition phases requires a deep understanding of the timeline for long-term system development and when components are introduced by the semiconductor company. It is key to consider potential component market, architecture and board misalignments. Component selection during development is a deciding factor for potential premature product redesigns and requalification.
There are times when the easy or most efficient component selection is the wrong choice, due to market misalignment. This scenario could be feasible if there is a planned and budgeted last-time purchase within a few years of selecting the components, however, this is seldom the situation. For example, graphic driver products have a short lifetime compared with military/ commercial avionics displays. Opting for a PC-oriented component in a market where the sole purpose of those components is product development will lead to obsolescence even before the first production units are shipped for long-term systems.
Commercial avionics has long settled on the PowerPC processor multi-core architecture, due to the control for multi-core operation and speculative execution across multiple processor cores. Existing multi-core PowerPC products have been certified for commercial avionics and software development. However, the end of the PowerPC architecture is on the horizon. It is only a matter of time before the commercial avionics market adopts ARM or RISCV as their architectures.
Board design misalignment:
There is the temptation to pack DRAM (dynamic random access memory) as tightly as possible. Many systems have variable amounts of DRAM to enhance their product or provide tiers within a product family. Packing that DRAM into a small space could be an advantage. However, the challenge with long-term systems lasting 15 to 20-years is that DRAM technology will evolve significantly within that time. It is crucial to anticipate this change by strategically designing board layouts upfront, minimizing needs for future modifications.
Key questions to consider:
What is the component’s lifecycle status across the application’s lifetime? Not only does the end-product’s lifetime need to be considered in component selection, but when the component’s lifetime started, as well as the product’s lifetime start dates and end dates must be accounted for.
Are the design’s key components comprehensively documented? Software is about 10x the cost of change versus hardware. Any component directly controlled by software will be the most valuable to keeping a long-term system shipping.
Can the true design files be archived at the design phase to offer a chance of rebuild if the unexpected happens? Does the design contain proprietary intellectual property? If so, the ability to port such designs when components are made obsolete may be compromised, or subject to relicensing and royalties.
Embedded IP blocks, particularly within FPGAs and ASICs, are commonplace. However, these IP blocks can also
make portability and sustainability almost impossible if efforts are not taken to ensure there is a plan for these products. This plan may have to be a fully funded last time buy or IP licenses up front that allow porting from one technology to another.
Many companies do almost none of this planning for long-term systems in the design phases where the impact would be maximized. From component selection, all the way through IP block selection, there are many ways a long-term system company can mitigate risk and schedule for system longevity. Ultimately, partnering with an authorized distributor and licensed manufacturer such as Rochester Electronics is the best solution to ensure long-term system availability