Potential Disadvantages of Microtechnology for Future High Consequence Safety Applications Page: 1 of 6
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POTENTIAL DISADVANTAGES OF MICROTECHNOLOGY FOR FUTURE
HIGH CONSEQUENCE SAFETY APPLICATIONS
Perry E. D'Antonio, J. Arlin Cooper, Stanley D. Spray, Michele Caldwell, and John M. Covan
Sandia National Laboratories JAN2t 19
Al M 7 15049
Microtechnologies (e.g., microelectronics, and
micromachines) are useful and promising for many
applications. However, since the small size and
specialized materials of electronics in general and
microtechnologies in particular appear to make
them sensitive to many normal and abnormal
environments, and since complete characterization
of the newer technologies is lacking, they must be
used with extreme caution in high consequence
safety applications. Based on what is now known,
we believe that they should not be proposed for
high consequence safety applications, particularly
for nuclear weapons detonation safety.
Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by
Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for
the United States Department of Energy under Contract
The development of new microtechnologies such
as nanoelectronics and micromachines is
exhilarating, and one is inclined to expect that
applications may be plentiful. However, for some
applications, including those involving high
consequence operations, there are dangers in the
use of both new and conventional electronics and
microtechnologies that may not be immediately
obvious. As independent assessors, the authors
investigate this concern. For example,
technologies that are extremely sensitive to
electrical, electromagnetic, radiation, and
contamination environments must be used with
great caution where their functionality can affect
This paper first acknowledges the attributes of
some of the existing and new technologies that are
being developed and outlines the reasons that their
application in high consequence safety systems is
so frequently proposed [1[. A general coordinated
approach to safety assessment is outlined, and this
approach is then applied to microtechnologies
(solid-state microelectronics and micromachines).
MICROTECHNOLOGY CONTRIBUTIONS O S T I
TO SYSTEM PERFORMANCE
Among the important potential contributions
offered by microelectronics and micromachines
are for any given system function to be performed,
reductions in volume, weight, power consumption,
and cost, along with increases in operating speed
are realizable. Some implementations also provide
enhanced reliability in some operating
environments, and mass production capability may
be enhanced for mature technologies. Along with
this has come reduced sensitivity to some
operating environments (e.g., shock, vibration,
acceleration). Unfortunately, there is also
increased sensitivity to many other environments.
This problem will be addressed in a subsequent
System designers justifiably want to utilize the
considerable advantages of the new technologies.
A system that can be made smaller, cheaper, faster,
more reliable, and more producible is obviously
attractive. Many implementations involving the
new technologies have increased immunity to
limited environments. For example, most
electronic wristwatches are now more immune to
vibration and shock; and are more reliable than
mechanical watches. But in severe environments,
caution is warranted. For example, heat can make
electronics non-functional and cold can make
electronic displays non-functional. A general
concern involves the possibility that the
advantages might be overpowered by the
disadvantages in some applications.
INDEPENDENT SAFETY ASSESSMENT
Systems engineering is intended to assure that
systems provide the optimal benefits of meeting
customer satisfaction, which may include meeting
cost, reliability, and performance objectives, and
not endangering safety. However, the main
training and focus of system engineers is on
meeting stated requirements (which sometimes
bow to what is doable, not what is really
desirable). Safety assessors are trained in failure
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Caldwell, M.; Cooper, J.A.; Covan, J.M.; D'Antonio, P.E. & Spray, S.D. Potential Disadvantages of Microtechnology for Future High Consequence Safety Applications, article, December 18, 1998; Albuquerque, New Mexico. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc673280/m1/1/: accessed February 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.