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  The USAF’s Cheap PCB Blunder
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The USAF’s Cheap PCB Blunder
cheap pcbThe planning, training, manpower, money, timing, reconnaissance, ammunition, and foreign relations that go into a military special operation are mind-boggling. When it comes to life or death, skilled soldiers and tacticians do not mess around because the stakes are high. Mission success can be critical to saving lives or moving ever-closer to an eventual end of conflict.

Those types of missions are the most clandestine and extreme case of military planning and power. The everyday operations, though, greatly outweigh these special activities in frequency and size. Seemingly ordinary troop or supply transport likely has a feeling of mundaneness to it; however, if it went wrong, it might feel anything but. The results could be catastrophic.

USAF’s Error cheap pcb

Anyone would think, then, that the procurement of components and PCBs for military-grade devices would be competent and efficient. Unfortunately, for the United States Air Force (USAF) at the close of the last decade, it was neither.

In 2011, a Senate Armed Services Committee report showed that there had been over 1,800 cases of counterfeit parts procured for assemblies used in aircraft utilized for transport, surveillance, medevac, and in several models of helicopters as well. Obviously, this report was not a positive reflection of the USAF’s acquisition and assembly practices.

Some of these fraudulent components (totaling over one million parts) may have been innocuous over time. Many of the more fragile and intricate pieces, though, have shorter shelf lives even when they’re high-quality pieces. Semiconductors and integrated circuits, for instance, can be notoriously delicate with several layers of minute tungsten contacts. All of this means that the refurbished parts being sold as high-quality originals had greater potential for failure.

Disadvantages to Inexpensive PCBs

cheap pcbThere is a difference between cheap and inexpensive, or second-hand and economical. Using a cheap PCB might mean a consumer is getting something less than what they asked for. It might mean a foreign manufacturer not bound by oversight and quality control is selling something different than what a customer believes they’re advertising. A manufacturer or consumer might be able to save a little money by purchasing a
cheap pcb, but in the end the cost may be more than they can afford.

The global operations of the US military are overwhelmingly labyrinthine. Millions of soldiers and civilians are involved in the minute-by-minute operations. The tiny parts inside of a computer, navigation system, or avionic instruments became overlooked. The lessons learned, though, by the damning report of counterfeit parts being used in mission-vital equipment, brought about great change.

cheap pcbIn the case of the USAF, acquisition processes have changed. Only known sellers who pass several background checks are being contracted. Purchasing now passes through many stages of quality control checks and more rigorous testing during assembly. Devices known to house parts purchased from cheap and untrustworthy sellers have been phased out. The lesson any manufacturer or PCB developer can learn from this experience, though, is invaluable. Communication and trust between all parties involved with design, development, and manufacturing must be clear and top of mind.
 
   
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