Northrop Grumman: 3D Nanomaterials May Counter Gaps in Additive Supply Chain

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The best technology is dead in the water if your domestic supply chain won’t support it. That was just one of the takeaways from Dr. Judy Dickson’s talk during the SMTA Additive Electronics TechXchange.

In her presentation, titled “Advanced PWBs: A Collaboration Between Design, Operations, and the Supply Chain,” Dickson, a senior principal systems engineer at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, laid out the many challenges her department faces in fielding HDI advanced packaging into the next decade. Most of these challenges are related to sourcing the necessary materials in the U.S.

Dickson explained how Northrop Grumman qualifies its suppliers. The company sent sourcing assessments to over 30 suppliers to determine their capabilities and capacity gaps, and the results showed a number of gaps in the domestic supply chain.

Much of her session focused on HDI and high-density build-up (HDBU), with HD technology forming a key part of the company’s next-gen RF sensors. Dickson said that HDI allows vias down to .005” to .006” and mixed materials, while HDBU permits 0.002” vias and 0.0015” dielectrics. The interposers used for HDI and HDBU are difficult to source in the U.S.

Northrop Grumman is currently seeking new sources of materials for their next-gen interposers. And the clock is ticking; according to Dickson’s charts, the company’s demand for HDI is slated to almost triple by 2022 and double again by 2026.

The gaps in the supply chain for HDI and HDBU technologies have lead Northrop Grumman’s engineers to look to other options, including 3D-printed nanomaterials. Dickson discussed some of the work focused on this area, and she noted that research is continuing.

Like many U.S. defense firms, Northrop Grumman can develop the most cutting-edge technologies for our warfighters but finding domestic sources for necessary materials is likely to remain a constant struggle. Thanks to Dr. Dickson for shining a spotlight on this important issue.


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