Beyond Ruggedization: Ensuring Long-term Reliability

Evaluating and comparing rugged commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products and COTS-based solutions can be confusing. Although military ruggedization standards make the process easier, the techniques and methodologies used to ensure ruggedness and reliability can differ from one vendor to another.

Curtiss-Wright goes well beyond standard industry processes to deliver ruggedized solutions with trusted and proven reliability that cannot be matched in the industry. And we use the insight gained through our advanced reliability analysis and testing to continuously optimize designs and further improve reliability.

We start testing for failures in the earliest stages of development and continue throughout the manufacturing process. To ensure our technology doesn’t fail in the field, we push it to the point of failure in the lab.

New Levels of Reliability

With our highly scientific approach to advanced reliability testing and analysis, and failure mitigation, we push reliability to the highest possible levels in every aspect of solution design.

To ensure product integrity, Curtiss-Wright uses finite element analysis (FEA) tools to model mechanical designs and we regularly test hardware, components, and connectors on representative boards. For example, the shock and vibration tests we put all circuit card assemblies (CCAs) through is key to understanding, measuring, and mitigating fretting wear and corrosion on connectors.

In addition, to ensure our solutions perform reliably for long periods of time in extreme environments, we put extensive time and effort into rigorous thermal testing and analysis. For example, we model and thoroughly test thermal designs to ensure they increase power dissipation while remaining within device limits. Our innovations in this area include using:

  • TherMax thermal frame designs to increase heat flow from components to the external thermal interface
  • Heat shunts from hot components to an unused chassis interface above the wedgelock
  • Heat shunts from high-power PMC modules directly to the thermal interfaces
  • The first effective solution development using heat pipes to cool high-power processor devices

World Class Manufacturing

To ensure that no printed wiring board (PWB) weaknesses go undetected, we take our reliability testing, fault identification, and mitigation techniques to microscopic levels. And, we have been going to these lengths for years.

For example, we’ve tested and proven a superior solution to mitigate against pad cratering that has been deployed for close to a decade. Pad cratering occurs when a mechanical stress such as temperature, vibration, or PWB bending creates tiny cracks that detach the pad from the PWB, leaving a “crater” on the board. It is one of the most insidious failures that plagues high-reliability electronics, but it can be difficult to detect.

We also lead industry efforts in applying conformal coatings, cleaning techniques, and lead-free soldering techniques that are proven to mitigate against tin whiskers. Tin whiskers are another extremely small, yet dangerous phenomenon that can occur on CCAs. These needle-like, crystalline structures are 10 to 100 times thinner than a human hair but conduct electricity and can cause short circuits on CCA.

We’ve used the results of our extensive failure testing and analysis to implement a number of operational improvements, including:

  • Reliability risk assessment (RRA) and mitigation on all new solutions, leveraging data from our extensive reliability knowledge database
  • Reliability prediction tools
  • PWB design and fabrication and in-house manufacturing to IPC Class 3 enhanced with additional rules
  • Extensive qualification testing with full functional testing
  • VITA 47 Reliability Demonstration Testing (RDT)
  • In-house manufacturing to IPC Class 3
  • ESS for all ruggedized solutions
  • A microsectioning lab for failure analysis
  • Solution reliability tracking

Together, these initiatives serve as a strong foundation as we continue to advance our failure detection and analysis capabilities to further increase the long-term reliability of our solutions in the field. And that reliability is one of the key reasons Curtiss-Wright has been a trusted provider of rugged and reliable solutions that have been proven in the field for decades.

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