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The DMS Dilemma: Keeping Yesterday's Technology Green

(10/21/2003)

By John Redding, Lansdale Semiconductor, Inc., Tempe Arizona

TEMPE, ARIZONA - High technology doesn't remain cutting-edge for very long, and this includes a great deal of costly military hardware that the U.S. Armed Forces aren't about to junk very soon. Much of this "old/new" technology has been on display in the lightning-fast military action in Iraq, but because of the volatility of today's technology marketplace, many of these high-tech weapons find themselves depending entirely on obsolescent electronics.

The Diminishing Manufacturing Source (DMS) dilemma exists today for integrated circuits (ICs) in the aerospace, commercial, military, and telecommunications industries. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Navy is still flying the F-14 Tomcats, and the Air Force, the F-15 Eagle, both supersonic, high performance, fighter and attack aircraft developed in the late 1960s - aircraft that may be old, but still crucial to any military effort. And they still require exact ICs as replacement component parts. This frequently causes a procurement problem for the U.S. military when electronic component devices are needed for the older aircraft's computer, navigation, and weapons systems. In addition, the desired life cycle of telecommunications products is similar to that of military products.

Designs are complex and large, making it difficult to replace them as rapidly as the semiconductor building blocks demand. Products that are driven by 3-to-5-year consumer product life cycles call for constant updating and replacement to keep the market alive, a situation that is anathema to the military.

Obsolescent systems have given way to today's fast-track technology
turnover, often making it difficult to keep designs up to date.


During the building of electronic communications systems over the past 23 years, the communications market alone consumed 30 percent of the world's semiconductors - generating economic forces that pushed the IC Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to maintain the products due to the high demand.

When communications DMS began to be an issue in 1980 - although ICs were driving the personal computer market - the majority of the telephone calls were still being placed through electro-mechanical relays in central office exchanges. Those switches and their designs are now several decades old, with some in place for over half a century - incredibly ancient compared to today's Intel Pentium-based PCs. The telecomm industry has had a crash program in effect for the last 22 years to replace all of this aging hardware with up-to-the-minute computer based switches while adding the enormous capacity of fiber optic connectivity for broadband connections. Semiconductor OEMs have been running on incredibly short life-cycle and time-to-market schedules to stay abreast of or ahead of the competition, and this has led to accelerated obsolescence across the board.

Old Military Hardware

So where does that leave the military, which is still using equipment that may be 30 or 40 (and even 50) years old? To be sure, the electronics has been seriously upgraded in most of these systems - particularly in the half-century-old B-52 bomber, but even there, what was cutting-edge electronics technology in 1999 is now seriously out of date. This has created a spiraling market void and an enormous need for ongoing production of obsolescent semiconductor replacement parts. Lansdale Semiconductor, Inc. has been filling this void for years, having pioneered the semiconductor aftermarket. The company can start and stop production lines, depending on customer demand, guaranteeing that ICs will be available as long as they are needed.

Using original IC dies, masks, process recipes, and tooling, aftermarket manufacturing ensures that the overall system will perform the same - because exact duplicates of the original product are made. Most circuit designs are tuned for a specific IC, and there is always a risk of system glitches or failures when an IC is replaced by something other than the original device - as is the case with other DMS solutions.

Today's electronic DMS aftermarket is modeled after that of the highly successful century-old automobile industry, where third-party suppliers continue to manufacture exact replacement parts for older vehicles. In the electronics industry, this approach has been used since OEMs began eliminating older technology to make way for newer ICs.

While aftermarket manufacturing is at the trailing edge of technology, its advantages in reliability, speed, economy, and availability make it the ideal immediate and long-term procurement solution. Once considered as nothing more than supplying cast-off parts from OEMs, aftermarket manufacturers are now regarded as reliable, high-tech, quality suppliers of mission-critical components.

With the number of benefits offered over alternative DMS solutions, IC aftermarket manufacturing has become the industry-driven solution to DMS and product obsolescence realities.

Economics Determine Obsolescence

When a new integrated circuit is designed, it can easily become critical to a new military system or commercial application. So when the OEM or second source makes an economic decision to discontinue the IC, systems managers and logistics support groups face tough choices to ensure that components remain available. In addition, because of the incredibly rapid growth rate of leading-edge technologies, the obsolescence problem is growing apace, as hundreds of first- and second-generation ICs are quickly becoming obsolete and classified as DMS, causing procurement management to scramble for parts.

Technology is not slowing down. It continues to move faster - with commercial product lifetimes as short as 18 months, and in some cases even less. Coupled with the typically long procurement cycles of complex military systems, the DMS problem will only become even more difficult to manage.

In addition, given the forecast downturn in U.S. and foreign defense electronics equipment spending, many programs, already operational for 10 years or more, will be extended well into the second decade of the new millennium, requiring replacement parts which commercial manufacturers no longer produce.


Past DMS alternatives have included IC reverse engineering, IC emulation,
board-level redesign and end-of-life buyouts of inventory for stockpiling.


A number of yesterday's traditional DMS alternatives still exist, including: IC reverse engineering, IC emulation, board-level redesign and end-of-life buys where an estimated number of ICs are stockpiled to cover a program's life. All have distinct advantages and disadvantages depending upon the application.

An excess inventory distributor/broker stockpiles varying types and quantities of ICs by literally buying out inventories of die or packaged devices from OEMs. The distributor/broker can offer low cost and quick delivery. However, while an excess inventory distributor/broker may have a part in stock today, there are inherent risks in this approach: there are no guarantees regarding quality, manufacturing date or availability - not the best of all worlds if you're charged with keeping a squadron of 50-year-old planes operational.

Most often, the companies that made the original ICs no longer manufacture them, since there is such a limited market, and profitability requires large production runs and eager markets. But the need to supply the aerospace, commercial, military and telecommunications industries with critical, end-of-life (EOL) technology IC products is an ever-present problem, one that was recognized early on by Lansdale Semiconductor president, R. Dale Lillard.

A Viable Solution

While some less desirable alternatives may still exist, the single, most viable permanent cost-effective solution to the DMS problem is IC aftermarket manufacturing. As an aftermarket IC manufacturer, Lansdale Semiconductor purchases all the marketing rights and manufacturing technology of an OEM's product line that has become obsolete and has been discontinued.

The company was founded in 1964 when Edward Pincus purchased Philco-Ford's Germanium small-signal transistor line. In 1976, Lansdale acquired Motorola's Germanium power transistor line and moved its facilities from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, to Arizona. In 1980, Lansdale's current president, R. Dale Lillard, was recruited as Operations Manager. Lillard had previously served as Product Manager and held other engineering management positions at Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector (SPS) in Phoenix. Within six months, he was appointed President.

Recognizing the critical demand for aftermarket manufacturing for integrated circuits (ICs), Lansdale began purchasing tooling for mature ICs from a number of OEM chip makers. In 1984, a bipolar wafer fabrication (fab) facility was purchased in Santa Monica, California, expanding Lansdale's capability to manufacture ICs. This was when Lillard coined the term "semiconductor aftermarket."

In 1986, the course of Lansdale was altered. The company sold its discrete transistor lines so it could concentrate on ICs, and the company was purchased by Lillard in early 1987. After acquiring additional IC lines, Lillard shut down the West Coast fab in 1993 and began construction of a new Class 100 clean room, bipolar fab in Tempe, Arizona. The multiple-line production fab was fully operational in the Spring of 1994.

Lansdale sold the Tempe fab in 2000 to Primarion with an agreement that the buyer would continue to support Lansdale's foundry needs. This has allowed Lansdale to concentrate on acquiring the rights to support other mature technologies from the original IC manufacturers and to expand its presence in the commercial marketplace.

You'll find some of the most popular, in-demand, ICs on Lansdale's comprehensive product list, such as Intel's 8080A and support products; Philips/Signetics' DTL, TTL, LS, ECL, PROMs; Motorola's Linear and SUHL-TTL. For more than a quarter-century, other well-known manufacturers - AMD, Harris, Fairchild, Motorola, National, and Raytheon have also chosen Lansdale Semiconductor to support their aftermarket product lines.

The company is certified and approved by the U.S. Department of Defense Supply Center, Columbus (DSCC) as a Qualified Manufacturer (QM) under the MIL-PRF-38535 Qualified Manufacturing List (QML). The company is also approved and certified to ISO9002.


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