The Inside Scoop on Multitest's System-Level Approach to Test
In this exclusive interview, Mark Godfrey, VP of contactor business unit for Multitest, gives CSR Tech Monthly readers a sneak preview of company's latest initiative for delivering an integrated, system-level solution set for semiconductor back-end test -- Plug & Yield. Multitest will be officially launching the program next week at SEMICON Europa, in Dresden, Germany.
CSR: Mark, you're currently the VP of the contactor business unit for Multitest, based in Minnesota. Can you explain your involvement in the Plug & Yield program?
Godfrey: Previous to my current position, I was on special assignment for a year and half, with a focus on Plug & Yield. The idea to do this was really a corporate level decision and was identified as a strategic initiative for the company. I had eager participation from whatever people were needed to get this going. It was amazing to have an army of people available to manage this as a well-staffed, well-focused project. It became the most exciting thing I've done in the last ten or 15 years.
CSR: Can you briefly describe Multitest's Plug & Yield test solution?
Godfrey: The concept starts with our product portfolio. We have a comprehensive set of handling solutions including gravity feed, pick-and-place, MEMs test, and strip handlers. Add to that our test interface solutions for applications challenges such as Kelvin, RF, high current, mixed-signal, and others; in configurations to support tri-temp, high parallelism, ultra fine-pitch, MEMS test, etc. Our test interface products include a broad-based set of technologies for package and WLCSP contacting paired with full-service design, and fabrication and assembly of final test interface boards and probe boards. We also provide mechanical docking systems. Basically, look at what constitutes the test cell in a manufacturing facility. We provide everything except the ATE system itself.
The idea is to go beyond being a one-stop supplier - there's so much more performance potential than is achievable just delivering components. We want to make sure that when we put the building blocks together for a customer, we're delivering maximum performance at a system level. It's not uncommon in the industry for a test solution to be deployed and up and running in a week, but is the customer reaching target yield and OEE? It often takes 4 or 5 months to do that. The customer has always been the system integrator. They buy separate components and then take responsibility for engineering the system and integrating it. Multitest saw a lack of focus on a system level solution in the industry. With Plug & Yield, we take on the responsibility for engineering the system and integrating it and testing it before delivery.
CSR: What inspired the idea for the "Plug & Yield" concept?
Godfrey: At the end of 2008, Dover Electronic Technologies, our parent company, integrated Multitest and ECT's Semiconductor Test Group into one company under the Multitest name. The vision was to integrate the businesses to deliver an integrated solution set. My team was charged with rolling this vision out in a way that would provide comprehensive benefits to our customers. The goal for Multitest was to provide a better value-add and increase our market share.
CSR: What major benefits does a customer get from going with Plug & Yield?
Godfrey: There are a number of benefits. Faster time to yield is critical. From the time we kickoff a project to when the system is on the floor and is ramped to full production can be achieved in under two months. If a company takes on this project internally, they could easily spend 6-9 months coordinating between independent vendors. Additionally, once the system is installed on the floor and operating effectively, there is better long term operating efficiency and long-term yields. It's a much more stable solution with lower cost of test.
Customers benefit from better utilization of their own resources. We're trying to encourage the customers to focus on their core business, and leave the development of test tools and processes to us. It reduces the number of people they have to have involved, and is a substantial cost savings in resource utilization.
We're offering a long term partnership. Customers can rely on us to take system responsibility for years to come. We have the power of financial stability to continuously invest in R&D. We do roadmap convergence meetings with customers to drive those R&D efforts.
CSR: What makes this different from other test company's solutions?
Godfrey: Really, there's no one else that's developed something like this. Other companies might have a big portfolio that they can put together, but no one has put together this kind of comprehensive solution. It's non-trivial, it takes a huge focus.
CSR: What steps are involved in setting up the program at a company?
Godfrey: We divide up into six teams, with a team leader for each. We needed to automate the process, so we put a set of IT tools in place so that information for the project comes into the company with uniform standards and allows the teams to work concurrently. They all know what deliverables they are responsible for, when they are due, where they're supposed to go for integration, and what is needed to ensure quality control.
One team runs quality processes. There are multiple factors to consider such as where various elements are made, and where they're supposed to ship to. The team executes system integration and quality control in our various factories consistently, and with the exact same set of standards.
Another team is in charge of engineering. It has two facets. One is concurrent engineering and protocols. Individual business unit teams design each component. There are as many as 25 different points of data communication between test cell engineering disciplines. That means there are 25 opportunities for error. The team developed a set of protocols so it's clear to all parties what's being communicated. Standards also fall into the engineering program. Although this is a semi-custom business, setting standards allows us to achieve system-level optimization very efficiently.
Our service team is also an important part of this. We have cross-trained every field service technician to have level 1 training on all products. Through this program everyone in the field can be first level responder. We've also identified who the experts are so first responders can call in a more senior person to deal with specific issues. Likewise, the sales team is well versed across all product lines, and the marketing team supports the sales people with the tools they need for the program.
CSR: Can you describe a scenario to illustrate how the partnership would work between a customer and Multitest?
Godfrey: We presented the concept to an existing customer. It resonated with them because they had an application for satellite communication devices coming that was challenging. They needed precise signal integrity and thermal control during testing. They agreed that if we took system responsibility for the project, it was ours. We brought in a field applications engineer to get information from the customer about all the challenges they were trying to address. The field application engineer became the leader of the project, and coordinated the project with the engineering teams: one from the handler group was involved in thermal management to achieve tight temperature control; another from the interface board group handled board RF design and fabrication. Test contactor people were involved for the contactor interface, and we involved our team of specialists who do signal integrity engineering. They simulate and characterize the entire interface. The team defined an optimum solutions set, tuned to a specific set of requirements. It was the quintessential Plug & Yield project because it leveraged several of our mission critical engineering strengths to create an integrated solution which is what Plug & Yield is all about. Stop taking on all the engineering risks and let us do it for you. We've got the engineering and products to do it.
CSR: Who are your target customers for this program?
Godfrey: Our target customers are broad based. We're able to sell this to an IDM and work with their engineering and manufacturing departments, but we specifically made sure our systems would address the scenario implementing a system for the fabless semiconductor company and deploy it in OSAT production. The fabless company might control the test interface and test program development project and we'll deploy a field application engineer to work with them to put together the interface board and test contactor. The OSAT would order the handler, docking system, and handler conversion kit. We can support them separately and still achieve a full system-level integration.
CSR: When was the program launched, and has it been successful so far?
Godfrey: Developing this program took a worldwide group effort involving business units in Santa Clara, Tempe, Rosenheim, Singapore, Penang, the U.K. and elsewhere. It took about a year - during a growth year when we had to work hard to keep up with ramping shipments. Processes came online in stages. We're now reaching full efficiency thanks to the parallel efforts of our teams.
We've been discussing Plug & Yield with key accounts since last April, but will be announcing it publicly for the first time at SEMICON Europa. We had specific performance metrics, and are running 25% ahead of plan. So we look at the program and call it successful. I really have to commend the team with staying the course and keeping on top of this along with other responsibilities. Along the way, Multitest streamlined its infrastructure and processes and improved its operational efficiency, which is what the Plug & Yield program is all about.