End of the line for 5-volt electronics

The COTS movement assumes that military and aerospace systems designers can meet their needs with commercially developed electronic components with little or no modification.

Feb 1st, 2003

By John Keller, Chief Editor, Military & Aerospace Electronics

The COTS movement assumes that military and aerospace systems designers can meet their needs with commercially developed electronic components with little or no modification. Often this turns out to be the case, but in some instances it's pretty far from the truth.

One of these areas involves system power voltages. Most military systems are based on 5-volt electronic components. This diverges substantially from trends in commercial electronics, where system power has evolved to 3.3 volts, and often to much smaller voltages.

The 5-volt components will disappear completely from the commercial market over the next seven years, says Jack Stradley, regional manager of Rochester Electronics in Midland, Texas.

After 2010, Stradley predicts, 5-volt components most likely will be available only from aftermarket supplies such as Rochester Electronics.

"The military will probably not see this problem for another two or three years, because they are not looking for it," Stradley says.

Some military experts are becoming aware of the problem, but the extent of the problem — and when the worst effects of the problem might hit — are unclear.

"Nobody knows how quickly the 5-volt components will leave the market and how hard it will hit people," says David Robinson, who manages diminishing manufacturing sources programs at the U.S. Defense Supply Center Columbus in Columbus, Ohio.

Some industry experts say the 5-volt problem is overstated. "What COTS has done is take a level of awareness of commercial trends to a level we never saw in the past," says Phil Angelotti, vice president and director of defense and aerospace sales at Avnet Electronic Marketing in Phoenix. "As customers migrate and continue to use the newer technologies today, they are understanding the roadmaps much better than they ever have in the past."

Angelotti counsels systems designers not to worry. "They see what they have today, and will design for the future," he says.

Yet whether the future phase-out of 5-volt components will present a catastrophic problem or only a few isolated headaches, designers need to think about how they will deal with the problem today if they have a hope of mitigating it in the near future.

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