Test Capacity Management Chronicles – Part 1

I recently highlighted the major stakeholder groups in the test industry that care about test capacity and how it’s managed: the test specifier, test provider, test equipment manufacturer, and third-party supplier. Over my long career in the test industry I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to think about test capacity and its management challenges from the perspective of each of these groups.

Interestingly, while I saw significant and exciting innovation in ATE and test techniques over those 27 years, I saw relatively limited development of test capacity management tools and methodologies during that same time period. My next few posts will provide a chronological review of some of my test capacity management experiences to see if you agree.

My early years as a test engineer at Hewlett-Packard had no test capacity management challenges. As part of a low-volume custom bipolar ASIC design center, we did all our test engineering and production on just one Sentry Series 80 tester. We were essentially both the test specifier and test provider in this case, but with access to only a single fixed unit of test capacity. Our challenge then had more to do with testing a 2GHz bandwidth, 500Msps oscilloscope front-end sampling device on a 20MHz tester! (Answer: rack-n-stack like crazy and develop 3GHz probecard technology).

When I joined Teradyne and relocated to Austin, Texas in 1995 to primarily work with Freescale (then Motorola’s Semiconductor Products Sector) I saw for the first time the world of large device portfolios and high-volume manufacturing. Along with that world came test capacity management challenges I had not experienced before. As Freescale built up its installed base of A5-Series testers and transitioned to the new Catalyst platform for their analog and mixed-signal products, we spent a significant amount of time together planning and managing the ATE configurations that would be used worldwide by this multi-national company.

Proactively developing a set of ATE configurations that aligned with the long-term device roadmap is common test capacity management practice now, but was actually not as prevalent for earlier generations of ATE. The proud owner of hundreds of tester platforms at the time, Freescale, like other large semiconductor companies, got to that point by allowing its various product groups to independently specify ATE based largely on just the technical requirements of their new device or, at best, family of devices. And, test equipment manufacturers like Teradyne happily provided specific solutions for each device. This strategy was eventually disrupted by the realization that test capacity utilization was an important cost-of-test lever that must be managed more closely to effectively compete in the growing global semiconductor industry. Coupled with this trend was the advent of architectural innovations in ATE that allowed for a much wider range of configuration options and thus demanded a more careful configuration assessment and plan.

So, what compelled you to first start prioritizing and performing long-term ATE configuration planning? When did it happen for you? In Part 2, I will continue my discussion of this first major movement in test capacity management, focusing on the tools and methods we used to perform this work.

Dan Hamling
CTO and VP, Semiconductor Test Business

The Changing ICT Landscape

Did you know that the major suppliers of in-circuit test systems in 1984 were Fairchild Test Systems, General Radio, Hewlett Packard, Marconi, Teradyne and Zhentel? Since the mid ‘80’s people in the electronic manufacturing industry have been predicting the demise of in-circuit test, or ICT as it is often referred.

The ICT market has shrunk from sales of $850M in 2000 to sub $300M today. This creates some very real challenges. There are only two major global players left from the above group; Agilent (formally H.P. and soon to become Keysight Technologies), and Teradyne. There are also a few up and coming regional players that will likely continue to drive changes in the ICT landscape.

When you look at a company like Agilent you’ll find an organization that is second to none in terms marketing. They deliver a clear and consistent message, add value to their products and make very few changes to their existing 3070 series ICT platform. Every new feature set they develop can be offered to their existing installed base as an upgrade without having to change the base platform. The 3070 is an extremely reliable, robust, high quality platform that many of the major electronics manufacturers have standardized on as their ICT platform of choice. If you are an EMS company with assets deployed around the globe you can feel confident that what you buy today can be upgraded tomorrow. It provides peace of mind that potential obsolescence issues have been minimized.

Teradyne has continually developed new, innovative ICT products. Their test platforms deliver feature sets that are leading edge technology…products that address digital component trends like ultra-low voltage devices, highly accurate driver/sensors utilizing real-time backdrive current measurement and limit controls. The new TestStation LX2 can test complex boards with up to 15,360 hybrid test pins. Companies designing and building complex, high-reliability, high-value, mission critical products have a test company that not only understands, but addresses their ever changing needs.

Both Agilent and Teradyne have been successful because they meet or exceed the requirements of their customers. With all of the changes that have unfolded in the ICT marketplace over the last 30 years, their ability to constantly evolve to address customer needs clearly makes these two companies’ survivors.

If you are looking to add ICT capacity, purchase upgrades for an existing ICT system, need a short-term rental, or just looking for a place to sell your idle or surplus assets, think of TEAM A.T.E. While we may specialize in Agilent, GenRad and Teradyne ICT systems we also buy, refurbish and sell other brands of test platforms like Takaya, Spea and TRI. TEAM A.T.E. has been custom configuring refurbished ICT systems for customers world-wide since 1986. We know what our customers expect, and our goal is to always beat those expectations. Give us a call, I think you will agree.

Mike Blackler
VP Marketing and Sales