SLM Solutions for Mission-Critical Aerospace and Government Chip Designs

Ian Land, Randy Fish

Apr 23, 2024 / 4 min read

While all businesses and organizations want their products and operations to be able to run with no downtime, glitches, or other challenges, few fields can truly use the term “mission critical” in its strictest sense like aerospace and government (A&G) can. From aircraft to radar systems and satellites, failure simply isn’t an option for those designing the silicon that will be placed in applications like these.

The emerging paradigm of Silicon Lifecycle Management (SLM) is increasingly being used on A&G chips to ensure system health and longevity. SLM encompasses monitoring, analyzing, and optimizing semiconductor devices as they are designed, manufactured, tested, and deployed in the field.

Just as for any other application, SLM is deployed for A&G chips in two overarching ways. First, chip designers must deploy monitors in silicon designs to gain information about how devices are manufactured, tested, and ultimately perform in the field. Second, this information must be analyzed at various points in the lifecycle to enable system performance and reliability improvements, traceability, preventive maintenance, etc.

Read on to learn why SLM is growing in popularity for A&G applications, see examples of how A&G chip designers are deploying SLM, and more.

aerospace and government chip design

Why A&G Applications Are the Perfect Candidate for SLM

While we’ve spoken at length about how some industries such as automotive chips have climbed aboard the SLM train, A&G applications have started to consider and incorporate SLM for a variety of reasons.

  • Longevity: Many A&G chips are built to last and be functional for decades at a time (and sometimes lying dormant for much of that, only to be called into action at a critical moment).
  • Security: While the security of all chips is important, the data stored on A&G chips is extremely sensitive and needs to be secure in all phases across the supply chain, from design to manufacturing and in-field (including the storage and movement of data within the chip itself).
semiconductor supply chain threats

  • Traceability: The ability to follow an information trail or a trail of artifacts over time to find the root cause of an issue is extremely important to be able to trace it back to a specific manufacturing facility or even a piece of equipment.
  • Multi-Die Use: The commercial market is driving multi-die use, which is increasingly being leveraged in A&G applications. This, in turn, requires more monitoring of the die-to-die interconnects, including temperature and stress monitoring, because they’re on different substrates or different surfaces.
  • Thoroughness of Testing: The more complex the chip, the more incremental testing that’s necessary to ensure that designers find any issues that may crop up in manufacturing and in-field in different environments. Especially compared to the commercial space, manufacturing tests for A&G silicon favor quality over yield due to how critical operation is for applications like aircraft. Also, SLM is also interesting for the environment and reliability testing often needed for A&G. 
  • The Remote Factor: Many A&G chips are in hard-to-access places that have extreme temperature changes (such as space or deep in the wilderness), making data, especially around predictive maintenance, extra handy. Instead of doing an annual service check, SLM data makes it possible to test and monitor remotely to understand component aging and develop a plan for field replacement.

A&G SLM in Practice

A common thread in all of the above themes is the importance of data, and by extension sensors, to A&G silicon. The data is useful not only for in-field monitoring but also for testing in the lab. For example, radiation-hardened testing, such as beam testing for a satellite, can be enhanced by various kinds of monitors, including timing margins, temperature, voltage, and process. 

On the predictive maintenance front, modern radar systems and corresponding transmitting antennas used on fighter aircraft experience extreme temperatures— from intense colds at 80,000 feet in flight to potentially landing in an exceptionally hot biome like a desert. Sensor processing can help lower the amount of power necessary for the antenna and make sure that the voltage temperature process is being managed properly to avoid failure and recommend maintenance before things go wrong.

The same could be said for an aircraft carrier that is essentially its own data center — the ability to sense where and when components are starting to fail and how we may be better able to balance out the workload to run more efficiently is invaluable.

As mentioned before, security is of the utmost importance, especially when it’s tied to devices and vehicles being utilized by the Department of Defense. While all of the aforementioned data is useful to keep mission-critical devices online and operational, it can also open up more vulnerabilities for bad actors to exploit and attack, such as a JTAG port, lasers for heat mapping, etc. Sensors can be used to detect anomalies and potential attacks before they cause damage.

silicon lifecycle management

Finally, an emerging area of interest for A&G SLM is high-speed access & test (HSAT) IP to enable scan tests for incremental testing in the field. This is especially true for equipment that may sit out on the field for decades, technically powered on but relatively dormant. Being able to retest this kind of equipment, especially monitoring, testing and repairing memory, interconnect lanes, and even logic, can make all the difference.

For A&G chip designers, harnessing SLM tools can be a powerful way to ensure system health. Thinking through the monitors, infrastructure, and analytic needs of their specific design can help each engineering team find the right tool for their application. A comprehensive solution like Silicon.da allows engineering teams to pull silicon design, monitoring, diagnostic, fab, and production test data in the name of advancing key chip production and operational metrics.

Continue Reading