Editor's Note: This article orginally appeared in the March 2012 issue of SMT Magazine.
Falling IC Selling Prices Require the Highest Efficiency
As a result of falling sales prices and reduced margins, all semiconductor companies need to focus even more on their cost structure. While this fast-growing portion of electronics for consumer applications is a great opportunity for the industry, none are willing to pay the high prices associated with the ICs used in automotive applications. Efficiency will become crucial.
With semiconductor production becoming more efficient and less costly, the relative areas of cost added by final test increases and becomes worth a closer look.
Semiconductor Test Leveraging Moore’s Law
As semiconductors became more complex, Moore’s Second Law was formulated: The capital cost of a semiconductor fabrication also increases exponentially over time.
This may have been true for some time, but testers have grown more intelligent, becoming beneficiaries of Moore’s Law themselves. Built-in components are becoming less expensive while offering higher performance. State-of-the-art automated test equipment (ATE) now offers enhanced capabilities and is becoming more cost-efficient compared to other test cell parts. Test cell configurations now exist in which testers are no longer the most expensive part.
Test Cell Hardware Must Keep Pace--At a Reasonable Price
Unfortunately, the performance profiles of the other parts of the test cell are better defined by mechanical and thermal issues. In this case, Moore’s Law is not applicable in the same way. Often, the hardware of test handling equipment causes a bottleneck. Typically, two requirements for test handlers exist:
- Test handlers must offer innovative technology to keep pace with new testers and cope with new semiconductor packages.
- Test handlers need to find ways to become more cost-efficient themselves, although they cannot participate in Moore’s Law due to their mechanical structure.
Figure 1: State-of-the-art test handler, the MT2168.