The new value and challenges of electronics in high-reliability, mission-critical products

  • Brad Jackson  |
  • 2015-11-04

Companies in the aerospace, healthcare, industrial and energy markets are increasingly incorporating electronics into their products and changing the way the world works. Unmanned vehicles are redefining the airplane, medical devices are revolutionizing healthcare and kiosks are changing the shopping experience. And these are just a few examples.

In a world of rapid change and technology disruption, companies are looking for a breakthrough and asking themselves if technology is part of the answer. 

Electronics bring exciting and innovative possibilities to many industries, allowing them to take advantage of new opportunities, enter new markets and maintain their competitive edge.

However, when integrating electronics into high-reliability products, the stakes are high. If the electronics fail in your phone or in your watch, it would be an inconvenience, but failure in mission-critical applications such as airplanes, medical devices and the energy grid could be catastrophic.

When companies start integrating electronics into these mission-critical products, it changes the nature of their products. It changes the way companies innovate and design products, and it changes their supply chain. Often times, when products become very complex, they are subject to new challenges that are difficult for one company to manage alone.

We have been gaining insights from our years of experience in bringing products to market, and we have worked with many companies to address the unique regulatory and technical challenges around integrating electronics and connectivity into their products.

Take materials science for example. The introduction of environmental legislation such as the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive has led to the use of new tin-based solder alloys in electronics manufacturing. The use of these alloys can have unintended consequences for the plastic laminate materials that make up electronic circuit cards. These laminates have shown a susceptibility to layer separation in critical areas, which occurs at the high temperatures needed to process the tin-based solders. This separation can result in possible field failures in high-reliability applications such as aerospace, medical and automotive electronics – where failure is not an option.

We are currently working with industry forerunners on materials science projects that will improve reliability in mission-critical products of the future. For example, to meet the aerospace industry’s performance-reliability standards, we are developing new lower-temperature alloys that are environmentally friendly. We are researching ways to reduce the risk of tin whiskers and to increase the reliability of electronics applications that are exposed to extreme conditions. And we are finding ways to increase the reliability of applications that have a very long lifespan, sometimes running for more than 20 years.

Materials science expertise is just one example of how we are addressing the complex requirements of high-reliability products. Other areas in which specific expertise is needed include the application of increased regulatory requirements and the orchestration of global supply chains that deliver thousands of components from different sources so that they arrive just in time for the product to be built.

Although companies face these increased complexities and challenges, electronics are becoming even more prevalent in mission-critical applications, and in some cases, they are starting to change major institutions such as our energy grid and healthcare systems. However, no one company can do it alone. Companies that embrace this opportunity to drive innovations in their markets and foster an ecosystem of partners that can understand reliability and quality are poised to bring to market a range of innovations that have the potential to change the world.

Brad Jackson
Strategic Business Development