As your experience in electronics grows, you will see many modifiers applied to the description of the components available in the market. Some of these may include “Hi-Rel”, “Military Grade”, or “Heavy Duty”. Most of these are just descriptive terms used by the manufacturer as part of their marketing. But what about “MIL-SPEC”? Are parts labeled as MIL-SPEC better than “regular” or standard components? And who confers the MIL-SPEC classification?
The short answer to this often-asked question is yes, a MIL-SPEC labeled part is typically better than a regular part that performs the same function. However, more than often it depends on the application.
What is MIL-SPEC all about?
For parts to be labeled as MIL-SPEC, and used in a military application, they must meet the requirements set by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) for sourcing, fabrication, material, quality, and supply. MIL-SPEC components typically have to conform to either a military specification, or a military standard.
A military specification (MIL-SPEC) refers to a DOD document that establishes the physical properties of a component, as well as how it operates. A military standard (MIL-STD) is a DOD document that details how a component is to be made and the materials that are to be used to manufacture it. The terms MIL-SPEC and MIL-STD have become interchangeable in current usage when referring to components.
MIL-SPEC components, in order to be used in a military application, must also pass testing and be certified for operation under severe conditions. The facility in which these parts are manufactured must also be qualified. This testing adds additional weight to the importance of the MIL-SPEC label.
The Search for Standardization
The DOD’s Defense Standardization Program (DSP) works to standardize military supply sourcing programs and reduce the sheer volume of different products being purchased. This leads to more consistent part commonality, compatibility, reliability, and interoperability. And it also leads to efficiencies in maintenance and repair, and reduced costs overall.
Components used by the military, or in systems used by the military, must be of high quality, must perform under tough conditions, and must be interchangeable with parts from other suppliers. Therefore, the MIL-SPEC designation typically implies that a part will be more reliable and will last longer than a regular part. Due to both the increased stringency and the additional certifying steps, it will also probably cost more.
It is also important to note that as technology evolves and industry practices change, the DOD updates and revises these standards to keep up with advancements and improve overall performance, safety, and efficiency.
Addressing the Cost Factor
If you are designing a product or system to be used by the military, and a MIL-SPEC or MIL-STD is referenced, then you need to use qualified parts. However, you may also consider using MIL-SPEC designated parts to enhance the perceived quality or reliability of your product to your customers.
The question becomes, does the added expense of using MIL-SPEC parts justify the cost? That is something only you can answer.
MIL-SPEC parts are typically of higher quality than regular parts and you may be required to use them in a future design. But this increased quality and cost may not be necessary for your intended application, as your needs may not match the needs of the military. It is possible that the increase of quality may be in aspects that you don’t care about while other areas, that are extremely important to your design, may be of even lower quality than consumer electronics. Do not blindly trust the phrases “military grade” or “MIL-SPEC” to mean that they are the best, always remember that MIL-SPEC simply means that they meet very specific requirements set out by the Department of Defense and nothing more.
If you are designing for military clients, though, you will need MIL-SPEC parts and our Friend of CircuitBread, OnlineComponents.com, supplies a large inventory of MIL-SPEC parts, and they can help you decide if a MIL-SPEC part is warranted for your design. They also have additional information on the difference between MIL-SPEC vs “regular” parts on their website at www.onlinecomponents.com.