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Designing for Military and Aerospace Embedded Systems Applications

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: October 5, 2020
More Functionality, Less Real Estate

Military and aerospace systems include a number of embedded systems that provide critical functionality. Your next military or aerospace system will require a number of complicated embedded systems to keep it functioning at top performance. Each of these embedded systems must provide specific functionality in rugged environments, and creating these systems takes powerful design software. Only Altium Designer gives you all the tools you need to design boards for embedded systems and prepare them for production.


A unified PCB design package for embedded electronics systems in military and aerospace applications.

When some designers hear the term “embedded systems”, it conjures a number of different definitions. No matter your definition, they are a distinct type of PCB that has specific functionality and appears as part of a larger system. An embedded system is intended to perform specific functions within an overall system with perpetual uptime and little to no maintenance. Engineers need to identify the required capabilities design accordingly.

Designing PCBs for embedded systems takes design software that is adaptable to any design, whether it’s a typical PCB, computer peripheral, or a single board computer for an unmanned vehicle or aircraft. The right design software will help you design to military and industry standards by allowing you to incorporate critical layout and electrical specifications as design rules. Only Altium Designer integrates all of your design features on top of a single rules-driven design engine, giving you the adaptability you need to design any embedded system.

Embedded Systems vs. Vanilla PCBs

In avionics, aerospace, and military applications, embedded systems will almost always include onboard processing with custom firmware, volatile and non-volatile memory, communications capabilities, and signal processing capabilities. Not all PCBs will include this functionality as some of these functions may appear in separate boards or on a computer. These boards are designed to withstand harsh environments on the battlefield and during flight.

Some use cases for embedded systems in military and aerospace include unmanned vehicles, surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems, and a host of other rugged systems. Compared to other devices or off-the-shelf single board computers, embedded systems tend to incorporate the best technology on the market and provide a range of functionality.

Designing Embedded Systems for Aerospace and Military Applications

Working with embedded systems in the defense and aerospace industries takes design software that helps you overcome many of the same challenges encountered by electronics designers for any other system.

The military and electronics industry at large impose standards for embedded systems in military and aerospace applications. Designing to critical MIL and IPC standards, designing for assembly and manufacturing, and ensuring embedded aerospace and military systems can withstand harsh environments are important tasks for any embedded systems designer.

These systems typically contain central processing capabilities that process data from other devices. They contain firmware that runs critical onboard components like cameras, sensors, or communications equipment. Board level processing is normally implemented with an MCU, FPGA, or multi-core processor, and systems designers will need to create firmware to run these systems.

Screenshot of the IPC footprint wizard in Altium Designer

Creating an IPC compliant component model in Altium Designer

The Future of Embedded Systems in Military and Aerospace Applications

With the military embedded systems market predicted to be worth $134.88 billion by 2021, embedded systems designers will have plenty of opportunities to help build the latest and greatest military and aerospace applications. Going forward, embedded systems designers will need to pack ever more functionality onto their boards. The right design tools will help engineers and designers keep track of their layouts, components, and sourcing, ensuring their boards meet reliability and quality standards.

More Functionality, Less Real Estate

As battlefield and in-flight requirements of embedded systems broaden and required capabilities increase, embedded systems designers will need all the tools they can get to keep up. Packing more functionality into less board space takes routing and layout tools that are engineered for high-density interconnect (HDI) design. You’ll also need via design tools that help you access the inner layers of your board while still meeting quality standards and ensuring signal integrity. These tools need to integrate with your design rules to ensure that your embedded system will meet electrical reliability and manufacturability standards.

Screenshot of the Active Route<sup>®</sup> tool in Altium Designer

The Active Route® tool for embedded systems design in Altium Designer

Set Your Embedded Systems Apart with Altium Designer

Embedded systems for avionics, aerospace, and military applications can be complicated, and keeping track of all the standards and components that will appear in a single system might seem daunting. Altium Designer includes important tools that help you stay organized, create the best compliant layouts, and customize all aspects of your design. The management tools are built to ensure a smooth transition to production and eventual deployment.

Best of all, these design tools are built into a unified environment. Other design platforms may include similar functionality, but they still segment important design and management features into separate interfaces. This creates plenty of opportunities for data errors and lost productivity. Instead, you can manage all aspects of your design from a single interface when you work in an integrated environment.

Design Cutting Edge Embedded Technology in an Integrated Platform

Staying at the forefront of embedded systems design takes access to the best design technology. Your schematic, routing, production, and component management tools should be second to none and built into a single design environment. You’ll be able to include any functionality you can imagine when you work in the right design environment.

Designing mission-critical embedded systems is a tall order that requires the best design, management, collaboration, sourcing, and production planning tools. Only Altium Designer places every single one of these features within a single interface. The rules-driven design environment allows you to define the electrical and physical feature requirements, and your design features will check your layout against these rules in real-time.

Altium Designer combines the best-embedded systems technology in a single platform, and Altium wants you to be successful. The AltiumLive forum, webinars, podcasts with industry experts, design tutorials, and an extensive knowledge base are at your fingertips. No other PCB design software company gives you this many resources for success.

It’s time to ditch outdated design software that splits your attention between multiple programs with inconsistent workflow. If you want access to the best-embedded system design tools within a single platform, you need Altium Designer.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2500+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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