C-MAC preaches to defense firms value of commercial availability

Farnborough Air Show » 2008
July 7, 2008, 6:56 AM

According to a leading supplier of advanced microelectronics, design engineers in the defense industry should follow the automotive industry and be more willing to adopt commercially available technologies. “We’re producing very robust and reliable subsystems for vehicles, capable of withstanding extremes of temperature, pressure and vibration,” said Bob Hunt, advanced technology development manager, C-MAC MicroTechnology (Hall 4 Stand E14).

C-MAC specializes in thick film manufacturing on ceramic and low-temperature co-fired ceramic (LTCC) substrates, advanced hermetic chip and wire assembly techniques, and multi-chip stacking. All these technologies have defense applications, where high frequency, density and power are required, as well as where rigidity and thermal stability are vital and when conventional printed circuit boards won’t do.

Indeed, C-MAC products can be found on 15 aerospace platforms ranging from smart weapons to combat jets to satellites. The company also derives significant turnover from the medical and communications industries. As for the automotive world, the increasing distribution of electronic modules and sensors in vehicles is helping to boost C-MAC’s business.

According to Hunt, C-MAC is part of a consortium led by QinetiQ that is receiving more than $6 million from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to develop microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). C-MAC is using its packaging expertise to provide the consortium with high reliability hermetic enclosures for the delicate MEMS devices, protecting them from contamination and ensuring their integrity in the harsh environments in which they will operate.

The company has a factory at Great Yarmouth in the UK, where it can perform climatic, dynamic and endurance testing. It does extensive thermal analysis and real-time X-ray analysis of modules to check for voiding in epoxy and solder interfaces.

C-MAC is one of the many high-tech supplier companies throughout Europe that have benefited from the Eurofighter Typhoon program. It designed and provides the fiber-optic front-end (FOFE) transceivers for the aircraft’s optical databus, under contract to Selex SAS. This fly-by-light system transfers data 20 times faster than a MIL-STD-1553 electrical databus. Therefore, the modules supplied by CMC must be highly sensitive and must consistently adhere to the precise specifications. There are 66 of them on the aircraft. The Typhoon’s radar and ASRAAM missiles also contain C-MAC modules.

Looking to the future of microelectronics in the defense industry, Hunt said that LTCC coatings would be more widely introduced, and that wire bonding would give way to “Flip Chip” direct attachment techniques. The “stacking” of silicon devices would improve the density of modules, leading to multiple functionality–the so-called “system on a wafer.”

C-MAC is a British company with subsidiaries in Belgium and Canada. It was acquired by venture capitalists in 2004, and now offers a complete capability ranging from prototype design and simulation to manufacture and test of finished product. It employs more than 750 people.

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