Case study: Developing military oscillators…
01 July 2020
Over the years, UK-based manufacturer of quartz crystals, oscillators, filters & frequency components to the electronics manufacturing industry, Euroquartz has witnessed the demise of crystal manufacturing in the UK as, one by one, other companies have closed production facilities. Read how Euroquartz followed a different approach to maintain an ITAR-free, UK-manufactured source of surface mount military clock oscillators.
A version of this case study was originally featured in the July 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.
Crystal products manufactured offshore, badged and resold have become the norm; indeed, Euroquartz has its own partner facilities in Asia producing commercial & industrial products for many applications – but has also steadfastly maintained in-house manufacturing at its Crewkerne HQ in Somerset. As Andy Treble, Sales & Marketing Director at Euroquartz Group tells us, with Brexit looming, in the spring of 2018, the company undertook a review of its crystal & oscillator production facility. It rapidly became clear that a decision had to be made regarding the long-term future of production at the Crewkerne factory…
Senior management considered the findings of the review in conjunction with the challenges that might emerge post-Brexit, as well as the global changes that event might bring. The potential lack of a facility to support the UK aerospace & defence industries was a major consideration, and a decision was taken by the firm to commit to maintaining its UK manufacturing capability.
During this review, it became clear that the current facility only had the capability to produce legacy components, and if manufacturing were to continue, then significant investment would be required to modernise production and develop more up-to-date products. Having committed to making this major investment, two projects were planned: one for the facility itself; the other for new product development. Let’s review some of the obstacles faced during this development and the actions taken to overcome them.
As with all projects, there were unforeseen obstacles to overcome, despite many planning meetings. The installation of the cleanroom was completed in March 2019, and the task of fitting out the rooms was concluded the following month. The product design element was relatively straightforward, though product development threw up a few challenges. However, it was unexpected sourcing issues that introduced more significant delays into the project.
Euroquartz approached a major manufacturer of ceramic packages that initially appeared happy to work on the project; but after three months, it pulled out on ethical grounds – citing that, as the product was for military applications, it violated company policy. This wasn’t something Euroquartz had hidden; in fact, it had been made clear from the earliest engagement.
This setback necessitated having to find an alternative supplier, which was achieved, only to find a long way into discussions that the company’s in-house design department was running at capacity. The only solution was to use a supplier-approved design company that could work on the build specification drawings for the package.
Eventually the design was submitted to the package manufacturer to be subjected to factory-approved design rules before it could be finalised. Besides resulting in considerable extra delay, significant additional costs were added to the project.
To regain ground, Euroquartz contacted its Far East partner factory to source some standard 7x5mm bases for development work. These were of a shallower internal depth than the new design. Nevertheless, it allowed Euroquartz to carry out crystal and chipset compatibility testing, with some temperature testing. On top of this, crystals were analysed for performance and characterisation, including accelerated ageing testing.
The design of the crystal was a crucial element, and ruggedisation of the design was discussed at length, resulting in some slight modifications to the mounting structures of the crystal. Finally, a seam-welding system was installed into the cleanroom, and, with a laser marking system commissioned, Euroquartz was now ready to produce the first samples, some six months later than planned.
Initial results were good, and parts were subjected to in-house military screening tests, which proved successful. In order to obtain qualification of design, test samples were submitted to an external facility for independent verification. A great deal was learned during this project, all of which will stand Euroquartz in good stead for future developments. Euroquartz is pleased to now be able to offer an ITAR-free, UK-manufactured source of surface mount military clock oscillators.
The process steps Euroquartz followed in this exercise:
Phase 1 – Market investigation
Research the UK aerospace & defence crystal oscillator market and the companies currently supplying this sector.
Establish what product Euroquartz could develop for the UK market.
Phase 2 – Engineering evaluation
A decision made regarding a product that could be produced in the UK in a relatively short period of time. It was decided that a 7 x 5mm standard footprint device would be a good product to begin with, and so a concept design was drawn up.
Phase 3 – Project planning
Actually, two project plans were drawn up: one for the resources that would be required, as had been highlighted in Phase 2; and one for the actual product development itself.
Phase 4 – Resource evaluation
In summary, investment in a new cleanroom, chip and wire bond system, profile oven for curing the crystal assembly, a seam welder, plus development would be required.
Phase 5 – Cleanroom installation
A local company was approached to install two class 7 cleanrooms. This was completed in March 2019, and finally fitted out in April.
New protocols were drawn up, staff training given, and old equipment refurbished with cleaner turbo-nuclear pumps.
Phase 6 – New process evaluation
Existing production was re-located into the cleanroom, and evaluation production runs were performed successfully.
This is in line with AS9100 requirements.
Phase 7 – Product development
Product development commenced with the evaluation and selection of semiconductors.
In parallel, discussions were held with our manufacturing partner in Taiwan regarding crystals.
An initial design was drawn up.
Phase 8 – Prototype testing
Product manufactured and in-house testing was performed to prove the processes and the design.
Product was submitted for independent testing to qualify the design.
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