GUEST BLOG: The defense industry takes advantage of standardized power supplies


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March 15, 2023

GUEST BLOG: The defense industry takes advantage of standardized power supplies

John Sturm & Matt Renola, Vicor Corp.

Throughout 2023, we see a growing trend in the aerospace and defense electronics industry towards technology standardization, particularly in relation to power supply networks. The US Department of Defense (DoD) and leading defense contractors have an incentive to push standardized, modular power systems, thanks to their inherent reusability, ability to scale across multiple platforms, and the clear benefits of reduced development time and faster time-to-market.

While this might seem like a well-defined movement, until the advent of hardware standards like MOSA (Modular Open Systems Approach) and SOSA (Sensor Open Systems Architecture) power supplies were largely an afterthought when it came to going from highly custom designs to to off-the-shelf standard solutions.

In an all too common scenario, it’s not until the system is specified and the logic and memory subsystems are designed that the question arises, “How are we going to power this thing?” At this point, there are usually very limited options. The engineer is left with a collection of power form factors to design for – some shaped like crescents or pentagons, while others are accordion-shaped to accommodate flexible PC boards. The engineer is then given a mechanical outline and room measurements and is asked, “Can you plug in a power supply?”

The industry has worked this way for decades, absorbing the cost of custom power supplies that also need reliable cooling — another key design element too often left as an afterthought. It’s as if someone first built a car and then figured out how to drive it.

Vicor has been powering defense applications for years and has learned that the energy chain is still often relegated to the late stages of design, or even retrofitted in some cases. This is unfortunate because earlier, serious consideration of the power supply network can be a strategic advantage once you understand the design advantages of power modules.

This is a habit that we expect to change as the industry continues to embrace alignment with MOSA and SOSA standards. This is a positive trend as we strongly believe that performance should be at the forefront of all design considerations. Not only does it provide a cleaner, more cost-effective, and more energy-efficient design, but it also guards against obsolescence in an industry where hardware is often expected to last 20 or 30 years. Additionally, having a known power supply early in the design process can help speed up the recertification process and simplify logistics and inventory management.

The opportunity to move to standard modular power systems is opening up in large part because of top-down pressure from the US government. What does this development look like? We see custom chassis and backplanes giving way to standardized designs with a consistent form factor across the entire application range, be it for an aircraft or an advanced radar array.

In this situation, the technician plugs in a single-board computer and other instrumentation cards, and the predictable, pluggable power supply becomes an integral part, complete with specified voltage rails and power output. Highly efficient modules that can support many different V-in/V-out also allow for greater flexibility and the ability to quickly respond to design changes.

These power density advances will enable more power in the same space for future designs, enabling scalability through technology reuse. At Vicor, we know that this long trend line is only possible when designers understand and appreciate the benefits of standardized, modular performance components. It’s a more strategic approach to power that enables faster designs, improves overall system performance, and mitigates obsolescence.

John Sturm is Vice President of Business Development for Vicor’s Aerospace & Defense business unit. Matt Renola is Senior Director, Global Business Development – Aerospace, Defense and Satellite Business Unit at Vicor.


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