LOVELAND, OH. Lawmakers and intelligence officials are concerned that their inability to easily track, trace, and inspect devices containing Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) components represents a grave national security risk. To address this problem, the Air Force Research Labs (AFRL) in partnership with AFWERX, launched the Microelectronics Supply Chain Provenance Challenge in January of this year. The goal was to surface ideas, prototypes, and commercial solutions to prove the provenance of microelectronic devices and their suitability for military applications all over the world. Supply Dynamics and Brunel University London were among 22 companies selected from more than 75 applicants to attend a showcase event in Las Vegas, Nevada, in May of this year. “AFWERX hosted one of the most professional and exhilarating events I have ever experienced,” says Supply Dynamics CEO, Trevor Stansbury. “It was like an innovation supercollider, bringing the best and brightest minds in supply chain and microelectronics industries together for two days.” At the event, Stansbury met Tony Grichnik, Caterpillar’s former Global Technology Leader in supply chain technologies and a Professor at Brunel University London. Brunel University is an applied engineering and technology university located in Uxbridge on the west side of London. The two organizations joined forces and were one of three teams invited to advance to the demonstration event held last week in Washington DC. Between June and October, using $800,000 provided by AFWERX, the Supply Dynamics and Brunel teams worked feverishly to integrate and refine their combined solution.
At the event, 3 finalists faced off over 2 days to see who could deliver what the Airforce Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Undersecretary of Defense for Research & Engineering was looking for. The Challenge was co-sponsored by CISCO and NVIDIA—both recognizable names in the microelectronics industry. On each day, teams were handed an unknown electronic device and told to ascertain the part number and source of every electronic part inside of the device. This would require disassembling, scanning, identifying, and documenting the sources of printed circuit boards, integrated circuits, surface mounted components, and other raw materials. It also included the identification and classification of associated risks (i.e. inventory, multi-source, lifecycle, counterfeit, etc.) and the testing of firmware. At the end of the challenge, the re-assembled device had to demonstrate it could still function as it did before the assessment.
The winning Supply Dynamics/Brunel solution combined the advanced scanning, X-ray, segmentation, and OCR capabilities of Brunel’s HISTEED and VISION technologies with Supply Dynamics’ web-based, multi-enterprise platform, SDX. SDX is currently used by large manufacturing companies in aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, and heavy industry to track, trace, classify, and report common raw materials that flow into their products from thousands of sub-tier suppliers. “Our approach to the challenge was multi-dimensional,” said Kaitlyn Maybee, Customer Success Manager at Supply Dynamics. “It addressed four aspects we figured the judges would be looking for: form, fit, function and flow." In the end, she added, “our 9-person team prevailed over much larger teams from companies like Battelle and KPMG.” Alan Bowsher, Senior Enterprise Architect at Supply Dynamics, says, “While the technology each party contributed to the effort was extremely advanced, the chemistry between the teams was terrific too. There was tremendous comradery throughout the process. I don’t think you can overlook that as a decisive factor in our success.”
When asked what’s next for Supply Dynamics and Brunel, Stansbury said, “You know, it’s been a great year. Our core business related to managing common metals, plastics, and fasteners, across an extended enterprise, has grown leaps and bounds, and we’re confident 2020 will bring more of the same. For example, we signed two new multiyear contracts with aerospace clients in October and are currently fielding three inquiries from major automotive companies. With respect to microelectronics, we are hoping to continue to collaborate with the DOD and to refine, extend, and apply what we have prototyped in a real-world pilot program. In Washington, we were informed that DARPA and AFRL will sponsor a new, multi-year competition that is microelectronics related, and we are hopeful it will afford just the kind of opportunity we are looking for.”