Companies join forces to mitigate COTS-era design woes

MELVILLE, N.Y — Two electronic components suppliers are working together to broaden the supply of obsolete and obsolescent integrated circuits for military and aerospace electronics designers, who find locating these components increasingly difficult.

By John Keller

MELVILLE, N.Y — Two electronic components suppliers are working together to broaden the supply of obsolete and obsolescent integrated circuits for military and aerospace electronics designers, who find locating these components increasingly difficult.

Executives of the electronics distributor Arrow Electronics of Melville, N.Y., are signing an exclusive distribution agreement with Qualified Parts Laboratory (QPL) of Santa Clara, Calif., to sell old-model ICs made at QPL to engineers who must maintain aging equipment.

The combination of QPL and Arrow business group Arrow/ Zeus bolsters an aftermarket supply base for military and aerospace electronic parts that already includes such companies as Rochester Electronics Inc. of Newburyport, Mass., and Lansdale Semiconductor Inc. of Tempe, Ariz.

Military and aerospace systems manufacturers, who by government edict must buy as many commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts as possible, face an obsolescence problem that grows more desperate each year.

IC manufacturers typically build COTS parts for commercial and desktop applications, which have life cycles of only a few years. Toward that goal, many chipmakers stop fabricating certain parts after periods as short as 18 months.

Military and aerospace systems, on the other hand, must stay in service for decades. Systems designers face an ever-more-difficult challenge to repair and upgrade these systems because the parts they were designed with are several generations old and often extremely difficult to find.

As part of their agreement with Arrow/Zeus, QPL engineers will specialize in custom packaging and reverse engineering to keep the supply of old chip technology flowing, says Angelo Carlini, vice president for major programs at QPL.

"Arrow may have the part, but in the wrong package," Carlini explains. "We can repackage it on demand. The lead time is short, and the product is exactly the same product that was originally qualified."

Alternatively, QPL experts also can re-engineer and remanufacture old parts if the supply dries up altogether. Re-engineering an old part often leads to its remanufacture as an application-specific integrated circuit emulator, Carlini says.

"Arrow/Zeus becomes our exclusive distributor and distribution channel, and we become their manufacturing arm," Carlini explains. QPL, which has been in business for the last 15 years, received Qualified Manufacturing List certification last year from the Defense Supply Center Columbus in Columbus, Ohio.

The Arrow/Zeus and QPL approach differs somewhat from that of other aftermarket suppliers to military and aerospace systems designers.

Rochester officials, for example, build their business on exclusive agreements with the original IC manufacturers to purchase remaining chip, wafer, and die supplies, as well as technical materials such as masks and test tapes, says Rochester President Curt Gerrish.

Rochester has exclusive aftermarket-supply agreements with 19 IC manufacturers, including Texas Instruments, Intel, Altera, National Semiconductor, and Xilinx. Gerrish says. If Rochester officials cannot supply their customers from lifetime-buy inventories, they also can remanufacture old parts under license to the original manufacturers.

For more information, contact Arrow Electronics by phone at 516-391-1300, by fax at 516-391-1640, by post at 25 Hub Drive, Melville, N.Y. 11747, or on the World Wide Web at http://www. arrow. com. Contact Qualified Parts Laboratory by phone at 408-737-0992, by fax at 408-736-8708, by post at 3605 Kifer Road, Santa Clara, Calif. 95051, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.qp-labs.com/.

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