Military Embedded Systems

BAM Blog: heads up on components availability for heads-up displays


November 27, 2013

George Karalias

Rochester Electronics

BEFORE & AFTER MARKET (BAM) BLOG: Jet fighters and the family car will have several things in common in the near future. When a disruptive technology is developed, prior generations of similar technologies are significantly impacted. In the consumer market, customers can generally adopt new technologies rapidly if the price point is right. Conversely, higher-value equipment with long operating life times does not have this luxury. Manufacturers of prior generations of military, space, and aerospace equipment may find their supply chain disrupted as cost-conscious vendors adapt to a more volatile market cycle.

This is likely to be the case for display technologies used in aerospace and other applications, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli. “Formerly used only in the cockpits of multimillion-dollar jet fighters, heads-up displays (HUD) now are finding their way into family cars, with navigation and driver-assist functions causing the automotive HUD market to expand by a factor of more than seven from 2012 to 2020.”

Heads-up display (HUD) systems are not a new concept, as General Motors (GM) first introduced them in 1988. However, because of various problems with the technology, including the light sources and the optics, HUDs did not sell as well as anticipated. Today, however, there is a growing interest from vehicle manufacturers following considerable advances in the technology, according to IHS.

The most advanced technologies such as HUDs are often developed for military, aerospace and government-security applications and eventually find their way into the consumer market.

A typical HUD system consists of a very-high-resolution thin-film transistor (TFT)-LCD display, with light and color provided by high-intensity light-emitting diodes (LEDs), according to IHS. These LEDs are located underneath the screen and project the image upward onto a series of mirrors, which give the impression that the image is floating in front of the driver. A series of high-power processors take information from the vehicle's architecture and convert it into a graphical format to display on the screen.

Once the transition is made from designing for a military application to a consumer application, several things tend to happen on the supply side. First, because consumer applications are extremely cost-sensitive, vendors typically move from devices developed to the rugged specifications of the mil/aero industry to what’s known as consumer-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices, which cost less and are more commodity-driven than parts that have been subjected to the rigorous testing and inspection for mil/aero applications. While the price of these devices is lower, they may not be as rigorously designed and tested as prior production runs (as they are assumed to be high-quality), leading to less reliable and performing devices. When COTS products are integrated into a mil/aero design, they sometimes don’t work because of a hardware or software mismatch.

Secondly, vendors may actually shift production away from devices used in less-demand-driven markets like military and aerospace for the higher volume markets. This inevitably causes a disruption in the supply chain for the more ruggedized, prior-generation devices. Although automotive systems don’t turn over as rapidly as consumer systems, new models are released annually. A typical mil/aero system - such as a heads-up display - is built to last decades. With long lifecycle products such as airliners, components that make up the high-tech electronics systems may go out of production as component makers transition their manufacturing capacity for newer products. This process, called end-of-life (EOL), means there could be a finite quantity of key devices. The availability of components for maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) may become scarce. EOL parts can be sourced in the open market, which increases the risk that a part may be counterfeit. The other option is to source from a manufacturer that is authorized for EOL products, such as Rochester Electronics.

Original component makers (OCMs) often make EOL parts available for sale. Many marquee names such as Intel, AMD, Atmel, Freescale, NXP, National Semiconductor and Texas Instruments, partner with distributors that will store and maintain these parts per OCM specifications.

OCMs may also make the tools necessary for manufacturing the devices – the die, masks and IP – available to partners such as Rochester Electronics for continuing manufacturing services. This authorization means the manufactured parts meet the exact supplier specs, and are supported to the same degree as if they were made by the OCM. If those tools are no longer available from suppliers, some continuing manufacturers have the ability to re-create devices to the same form, fit, function, and specs as the OCM part.

Component makers increasingly are aligning themselves with partners so customers aren’t confronted with EOL dilemmas. Buyers can always look for devices on the Internet or in the open market, but run the risk of buying a substandard or counterfeit component. OCMs authorize partners to avoid this dilemma.


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