NIWeek Test Talk

National Instruments executives discuss semiconductor testing.


Semiconductor Engineering sat down with David Hall, Chief Marketer, Semiconductor, of National Instruments, and Mike Watts, NI’s Senior Solutions Marketer, Semiconductor Test, during NIWeek 2018 in Austin, Texas.

“One of the opportunities for National Instruments is that over the last 10 years, we’ve seen larger semiconductor organizations change the way they do testing both for R&D, as well as production test,” Hall said. “Specifically, in the R&D lab 10 years ago, a lot of the characterization testing was done by the engineers and developers at the business unit. If your job is analog engineer, you develop a PMIC or a power amplifier, and you get the part back, you plug it in and see if it works. It’s your part. You test it, and if it works, you’re good! If not, you’ve got to do some revision.

“That process historically has become more time-consuming in part because of the integration and packaging associated with new semiconductor components. Many of our customers are competing with each other by delivering more integration in a single package, more ports, more connections, higher complexity. I was talking to a former colleague. He was working on one piece of one die on a chip. This was a large company. His feedback was, ‘Man, it kind of felt like that it didn’t matter anymore! If my piece of the one die on the one chip didn’t work, they were just going to replace me with someone else. I was just working on such a small fraction of the chip; it didn’t feel like it mattered to me.’ In that scenario, when you have a highly integrated chip, and we’re seeing this in power management ICs, we’re seeing this in Bluetooth, MCUs, our front-end module is a really good example. With that degree of integration, it’s impossible to test it by having the guy developing the analog chip just plug it into some instruments. And that’s forcing automation.”

Watts said, “Another thing we’re seeing is requests for a higher volume of data sets and more data points when doing lab characterization, especially for chipsets for highly regulated industries, like automotive. They want larger sample sets and they want more volume of chips earlier so they can evaluate them. Which is another driver for automation in the lab, because we may need to do 40 chips instead of just one. They definitely do need higher levels of automation. In the past, simply automating the set of instrumentation, but also automating the handling of the device. We’re seeing more needs for handlers in the lab that can automate the handling of the chips, as well as the testing of the chips. Which does provide opportunities for our Semiconductor Test System in the lab.”

Hall went on to talk about manufacturing test, including that for advanced driver-assistance system chips and Internet of Things chips. The latter involves “multiple standards that keep proliferating,” such as the narrowband IoT and Bluetooth Low Energy protocols, he said. “It’s very different with the IoT, because the use cases are all very different,” he observed. “There is a relatively large number of suppliers creating a large number of types of chips.”

Automatic test equipment continues to evolve to meet the changing demands of the semiconductor industry.

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