Mitigating Long-term Semiconductor Supply Risks in the Aerospace Market

Ken Greenwood, Product & Technology Solutions Manager, Rochester Electronics EMEA

Securing a decades long semiconductor supply in the aerospace market is an incredibly challenging endeavor, due to the industry’s long-term product and service lifecycles, costly requalification processes, and stringent environmental requirements.

The sourcing of regular, active semiconductors has been the supply chain’s challenge over the last few years. Fortunately, the supply issues have now been largely resolved, as the market returns to a state of over-supply in its consistently cyclical nature.

Considering the recent market conditions, Original Component Manufacturers (OCMs) are now re-evaluating profit margins and strategies throughout their product portfolios. This is particularly true for aerospace focused components, which are characterized by smaller production runs and older technologies packages. As a result, aerospace-focused semiconductors face a heightened risk of being phased out.  Discontinuations are the result of fab closures as the OCM’s and their 3rd party fab partners, retire older technologies. In parallel, as these older fab technologies are retired, packaging houses are shifting their focus to higher-margin products. Further, test equipment suppliers may cease providing in-service support for older test platforms. These changes are impacting semiconductor families that were previously considered to be long-term secure.

There has been a noticeable increase in Product Discontinuation Notices (PDNs) for lead-frame-based semiconductor packages, such as PLCC, Small-SOIC, and TSOP, post-allocation. Suppliers are actively shifting focus away from the complexities and heavy investments associated with lead-frame-based packages, towards simpler and more cost-effective alternatives.

The aerospace market faces a major challenge with the increasing number of PDNs, considering long production times and service lifespans. It is it not uncommon for production runs and service lives to surpass the originally planned withdrawal dates, making it difficult to accurately predict future requirements, essential for any last-time-buy decisions.

With long-term component availability more uncertain than ever, how do companies minimize risks without creating new ones? 

  1. Lifecycle Management Starts During the Design Phase:

Aerospace market volumes do not drive major semiconductor investments, so longevity and environmental requirements mean that design engineers are best served by specifying automotive grade ICs into new products wherever possible. Careful choice of fabrication technologies, IC packaging, and suppliers can minimize long-term sourcing risks.

  1. Dual Sourcing:

While it is rarely possible to approve multiple manufacturers for the same semiconductor device for critical components, establishing multiple authorized supply chains for your key components is essential.

  1. Advanced Warning Systems:

Share critical parts lists with trusted suppliers who can assist you when unforeseen events occur. In the event of a natural disaster impacting semiconductor production, you will be promptly informed within 48 hours about the affected components and have immediate access to the available stock to avoid any disruption to your operations.

  1. Track Component Lifecycles:

Instead of relying solely on lifecycle algorithms used by component tracking databases, seek the support of authorized end-of-life suppliers and licensed manufacturers for a second opinion. These trusted sources can provide valuable insights into the availability of components that are often labelled as “discontinued” on these databases.

  1. Continuous Customer Support:    

Companies not only need to establish a sourcing partner that can offer a guarantee of long-term availability, but one who can also demonstrate a controlled transition process through end-of-life and into fully authorized supply, or even long-term production.

Fully authorized distributors, such as Rochester Electronics, are compliant with the SAE Aerospace Standard, AS6496. Simply stated, they are authorized by the OCM to provide traceable and guaranteed products with no quality or reliability testing required because the parts are sourced from the OCM.

Providers who are not fully authorized may market themselves as AS6171/4-compliant.  While better than no compliance at all, if AS6171/* testing is offered in isolation, this potentially indicates that the parts were not sourced directly from the OCM but have only passed AS6171 testing.

As a licensed semiconductor manufacturer, Rochester also offers on-going solutions using information and technology transferred directly to Rochester from the OCM. All the resulting product is 100% certified, licensed, guaranteed.

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