Requirements of Being a MIL-certified Shop


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Barry Matties speaks with American Standard Circuits’ VP of Business Development David Lackey, who has nearly 40 years of experience producing PCBs for the mil/aero market. David talks about what it’s like being a MIL-certified shop and the stringent quality and reporting requirements that it entails.

Barry Matties: David, please start by telling our readers a bit about yourself.

David Lackey: I’ve been in the industry for nearly 40 years now and have worked with many different companies, mainly military/aerospace, higher-technology, flex, rigid-flex, metal-back, and RF. I joined American Standard Circuits in 2008, and we are a mil/aero-certified company with a wide variety of products.

Matties: What separates a mil/aero job from other markets, for example?

Lackey: There are a lot of quality and paperwork requirements that go with being a MIL-certified shop. You have to do outside lab testing every month and reporting to a defense logistics agency all the time, so it’s about cross-sectioning every panel, traceability, and reliability. Also, every board has to have serialization with the coupons that are being analyzed. Every panel has to have cross-sectioning of every via structure, and you have to make sure that everything is right because this is for critical operations; there’s no margin for error. Again, there are a lot of quality things required that go into the product besides just the build.

Matties: There’s a lot of mil/aero suppliers, and they all build to these specifications. And they all say on-time delivery, so you have to do that to even be in the board game. What’s the difference? Why should you pick one over the other?

Lackey: Everything we build is built to meet this qualification. Some jobs may not have to be certified to it, but that’s what we do because we can’t have two different kinds of programs going. We’re also very engaged with our customers. We pay attention and work with them early on. We take on things other people don’t want to do and call them “science projects.” We’re very aggressive, and we’ve been very fortunate that we can invest. Also, relatively speaking, we have military qualifications on a wide variety of materials and technologies. One thing that is important to remember about military qualification is that every product type needs to be qualified, and it is quite expensive to maintain a large variety of product types.

Matties: When you say aggressive, what do you mean?

Lackey: We take on things that other people may not look at. Large companies may say, “We have enough going on and don’t want to deal with it.” Smaller companies than us may have no certification nor the resources and the finances to do it.

Matties: So, you’re the right size and have the right configuration for this kind of work.

Lackey: Exactly. There’s no red tape. We dive in and try to make this work, and we work with engineers very closely. We give them feedback and are very versatile.

Matties: Is there a difference when you’re selling a military customer versus a commercial customer?

Lackey: The amount of testing required is different. We can build a commercial board that meets military specifications.

Matties: And you have to speak their language.

Lackey: Yes. And they have their own requirements for quality and reporting. AS9100 and ISO have their own, so you have to be able to manage all of these different things and have the resources to do it because they’re all a little different. Similarly, you have to have a really good quality management system, but the amount of time it takes and the reports you have to provide are very complex.

Matties: And for the military customer, there’s a security issue as well. How do you deal with that?

Lackey: We’ve come very far on our cybersecurity, such as how we manage ITAR files. It has become so critical, and these things cost money; it’s an investment, and you have to be careful. It’s different than other types of customers that we may have because of the added work that’s required to do this kind of business. It has become a niche market; there are not as many players, and we get to take on some very unique requirements.

Matties: But with the Administration’s expanding military budget, there are more and more players interested in entering this market.

Lackey: Right, but it’s not easy to do; you must have the stomach for it.

Matties: How long have you been servicing the military market?

Lackey: Since I started almost 40 years ago, in every shop I’ve worked in. I worked at Northrop Grumman’s captive shop, but a lot of these captive shops have gone away now; they can’t afford it.

Matties: How long has American Standard Circuits focused on servicing the military?

Lackey: For over a dozen years now. My whole career has been focused on this type of product, and the reporting to the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA); I’m the facilitator for that at American Standard Circuits, and everything has to be just right. If there’s ever a hiccup, you have to use an independent lab, and if they find a problem with your board, you must notify your customer and may have to recall stuff that has been in the field. Everything has to be right. You have to be sure about what you’re building and submitting to your customer before it goes.

Matties: What advice would you give a buyer of circuit boards these days?

Lackey: Do your homework. How long have they been around? What certifications do they have? What markets do they serve? Have your engineers, designers, quality personnel, etc., engage with them, and make sure that the language they speak is what you need to hear. Ensure that they have good financial stability and are investing in the future. Visit the shop and see their controls to ensure that they can meet what you need.

Matties: I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us.

Lackey: Thank you.

Dave Lackey is also co-author of The Printed Circuit Designer’s Guide to… Flex and Rigid-Flex Fundamentals. Visit I-007eBooks.com to download your copies of American Standard Circuit's books, including The Printed Circuit Designer’s Guide to… Fundamentals of RF/Microwave PCBs, as well as other free, educational titles.

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