How a $5 Capacitor Turned Into a $1 Billion Problem

Posted by Peter Matthews on Oct 2, 2019 3:10:24 PM
Peter Matthews

In mission-critical applications, additional screening and testing is required to ensure that only the most robust parts make it to the finished product. Preventative measures, like high quality standards, lessen the possibility of failure in the field and minimize the likelihood of astronomical downstream costs.

Balancing reliability and cost requires careful consideration and evaluation for every component. Failing to do so can have its consequences. The United States military experienced this first-hand last week. In a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Charles Verdon, deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), had to explain how and why a series of $5 capacitors will delay the Navy and Air Force nuclear warhead refurbishment program by about 20 months.


Here’s What Happened

Engineers ran tests to evaluate commercially available capacitors in hopes of using them for U.S Navy and Air Force nuclear warhead upgrades. Stress testing results did not give the NNSA confidence that the capacitors would hold up in a mission-critical application. Parts used in warhead upgrades must survive for decades, up to 30 years post-production.

“While the problematic components have worked during all system tests (component, major assemblies, and full-up integrated system flight tests) for both the B61-12 LEP and the W88 Alt 370, technical issues were identified that led us to question the components' long-term viability,” said Verdon.

Rather than using the capacitors and risking complications further down the timeline, Verdon said his agency decided to delay the upgrade.


The Cost

In addition to an 18 to 20 month delay on the Navy and Air Force nuclear refurbishment program, the capacitor defects will cost more than $1 billion to fix. The success of a capacitor in the field depends on manufacturing to avoid failures and the know-how to screen for any production discrepancies. Selecting the right supplier is just as imperative as choosing the right capacitor for a mission-critical application. Partner with an experienced supplier early in the design process. A long reliability history and deep knowledge of safety guidelines could save you in the long run.

Learn more about balancing cost and reliability in out white paper, The Price Of Reliability: Considerations for Buyers. which explores key considerations when selecting components for mission-critical applications such as medical device design. 

Topics: Capacitor, News and Events, Military and Aerospace, High Reliability

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