Digital Twin Technology Enlisted by Military

Article By : George Leopold

The United States Department of Defense's industrial base initiative targets semiconductor supply chain.

The U.S. military is again attempting to secure the nation’s semiconductor supply chain with a handful of industrial base initiatives that include a digital twin capability that used data-driven virtualization to validate the integrity of individual devices or an assembly of chips. That capability would in turn help secure devices incorporated into weapons.

Among the recipients of Defense Department and Air Force industrial base funding is a small but growing Florida non-profit called BRIDG. The public-private partnership recently received a $7.5 million contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory aimed at gathering data on chip design and manufacturing processes. Among the goals is allowing military customers to establish the provenance of semiconductors using a new digital twin capability.

Previously, BRIDG received a $20 million contract from the Defense Department’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Office aimed at securing the microelectronics supply chain for critical infrastructure.

BRIDG is currently ramping up a 200-nm production line designed primarily for silicon components such as digital and RF interposers. Those devices and other secure production capabilities target applications like sensors and optoelectronics.

Among the goals are developing secure designs and manufacturing processes to enable “heterogeneous integration” of different chip types on a single die, according to Brett Attaway, BRIDG’s business development director. Using the digital twin approach, multiple systems that include CPUs and memory chips could then be connected, prototyped and manufactured to boost performance while ensuring security.

As the partnership ramps up as a DoD-trusted facility with secure processes, “We see ourselves as part of the ecosystem for heterogeneous integration,” Attaway noted in an interview. “There’s a gap to be filled in the DoD and aerospace community,” he added. “The gap is real. We can enable next-generation systems” via a secure chip supply chain.

Along with digital twin manufacturing processes, the Air Force contract calls for BRIDG to develop security standards and manufacturing processes. Those benchmarks would be used to protect against malicious functions inserted into mission-critical chips as well as spotting fake chips and intellectual property theft while boosting reliability.

Among the first deliverables under the Air Force contract is a product design kit for silicon interposers. Attaway said BRIDG expects to begin delivering devices by the third quarter, with production on its 200-nm line ramping up by the end of 2020. The organization is licensing interposer technology from IMEC, the chip R&D center based in Belgium.

Meanwhile, the emerging digital twin capability will leverage fab data to create virtual chips model while designs progress through the production process. Along with improving chips production yields, the approach also will add a layer of secure “provenance tracking,” Attaway said.

The goal of the Air Force effort, he added, is “improving the ecosystem for creating trusted and assured chips.”


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