Qualcomm leverages OptimalTest software for IC test

The semiconductor industry increasingly depends on a diversified supply chain with organizations dispersed worldwide. While such a supply chain lets each organization focus on its core competency—design, fabrication, packaging, test, test-system and software development, tester-interface-hardware development, and so on—the diversity of organizations involved can result in communications bottlenecks as the organizations attempt to share actionable data.

Dan Glotter, founder and CEO of OptimalTest, positions his firm's software as a way to alleviate the bottlenecks. As he put it at the July 14 ATE Vision 2020 workshop, co-located with Semicon West, his goal is to pave the semiconductor information superhighway across the supply chain to support real-time data collection, secure data transfer, and data analysis.

The approach is gaining some traction, based on a presentation last month from Octavio Martinez, senior director of engineering at Qualcomm. Speaking at the International Test Conference, Martinez placed the challenges in the context of Qualcomm's requirements as the number 1 fabless company, number 1 wireless company, and number 1 RFIC company as well as one of the top 10 semiconductor suppliers.

Martinez began by describing the market and Qualcomm's participation in it. He said, “We deliver the full silicon solution and software that drive the phone that you love right now.” Smart phones are increasingly becoming critical to our lives, and Qualcomm wants to be instrumental in advancing that trend.

Martinez noted that phones are increasingly incorporating consumer-electronics functions such as 2-D/3-D graphics, HD video, high-resolution cameras, and GPS navigation. To provide these features, they are incorporating dual-core processors operating at 1 GHz and beyond and require sophisticated power-management functionality to ensure long battery life.

Qualcomm, Martinez continued, is well positioned to serve what he called a “huge growth industry” for such phones. There are more than 1 billion 3G subscribers today, he said, and that number is expected to rise 2.8 billion by 2014.

Of course, challenges abound. With the smart phone increasingly at the center of your life, you want to be sure that somebody has adequately tested the chips that go into them—without driving up costs. Qualcomm is actively pursuing the 28-nm technology node, Martinez said, and needs full visibility into all aspects of its supply chain, including fabs and assembly and test houses. Current shipment volumes at Qualcomm—Martinez said that in Q3 Qualcomm was shipping Mobile Station Modem™ (MSM™) chipset solutions at rates of 15 MSMs per second, or about 1.33M per day—illustrate the complexity of the challenges. “Think of logistics management problems,” he said. “When getting cutting-edge devices to the marketplace, every millisecond of test time counts.”

Optimizing the test process—minimizing test time, optimizing NPI yield ramp, and maximizing coverage—requires visibility into actionable test data, Martinez said, but that task can be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Qualcomm accumulates four terabytes of data per quarter, he said, and the company looked to OptimalTest for assistance, launching a pilot program in 2008.

In addition to the huge volumes of data involved, challenges centered on multiple suppliers in different locations, inconsistent test environments, and inconsistent data formats. And of course any solution would have to provide connectivity to the manufacturing execution systems (MES) and other systems across the supply chain while ensuring quality. In addition, a successful implementation would require management commitment, with management assured of a favorable ROI, and the project would need to be viewed as a “win-win” among Qualcomm and all participating companies in the supply chain. That requires buy-in from each organization's IT department.

Martinez said that the engagement with OptimalTest has thus far seen full deployment of the OptimalTest solution at final test suppliers, and wafer-sort suppliers should be fully deployed this year. The deployment, he said, involves dozens of OSAT sites around the world on hundreds of testers, which in turn represent multiple test platforms and versions.

The result, he said, is a high level of data quality and consistency, with actionable data available in minutes—to product and test engineers, yield engineers, operations personnel, and management. He noted that product and test engineers can create rules, receive alerts, and analyze data. In one case, he said, test engineers were able to resolve a test time issue that resulted after a tester upgrade by changing BIOS configuration settings.

In addition, he said, yield engineers can view cumulative yield maps or composite bin maps, with retest data overlaid on first-pass data. Operations personnel can use the system for supply-chain management, comparing supplier performance. And management can tract performance with respect to corporate key performance indicators.

Martinez cautioned that a robust solution based on OptimalTest tools requires IT involvement across the supply chain from day 1 as well as management commitment, but he added that production optimization via automated tools such as OptimalTest's are critical to optimizing margins. In conclusion, he said, “ROI is quite healthy.”

Posted October 24, 2011, 1:58 PM. View all posts.

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