The previous arguments for continued use of hybrids and modules in military systems remain valid. However, it is important to recognize that the commercial pressures on military equipment manufacturers are greater now than ever before, and in particular, costs and time to market.
Full custom hybrid designs are expensive and take a relatively long time to develop. More alternative monolithic IC solutions are becoming available every year. While new hybrid designs are still developed at major defense companies, there is a detectable trend towards out-sourcing manufacture as volumes decline.
The picture for COTS modules is quite different. There is definite momentum toward module-based solutions driven by both technical and commercial considerations. Switching power supplies are one area that is particularly well-suited to module implementation as efficient designs need specialist knowledge that is a scarce commodity in today’s military design teams.
Enter µModule products
Linear Technology’s µModule switching regulators are one example of modern day COTS modules. Launched in 2005, one of the first products provided a complete 12A DC/DC regulator in a 15mm square surface mount package (Figure 1).
Figure 1: The LTM4601A 12A µModule DC/DC regulator
Subsequently, a complete family of µModule power products has been developed, including a wide range of power levels, device architectures and features. The same package technology has been used to implement interface and signal chain functions (Figure 2).
Figure 2: The LTM2881 Complete isolated RS485/RS422 µModule transceiver+power
Resembling a surface mount IC, each µModule regulator includes a complete system-in-package solution that simplifies design and minimizes external components. Internally, the layout and design are optimized for electrical and thermal efficiency. Built to the industry’s highest standards, these µModule products offer reliability, approaching that of standard ICs. Table 1 shows a selection of the reliability data that has been accumulated. This includes severe board mount tests required for military applications.