The hot potato of test

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Early this year I met with a number of packaging sub-contractors, and one theme that came up at virtually every one of them is the increasing importance of test in their business. It seems that more and more semiconductor companies are very willing to hand off the test portion of the process flow. I think this is a great thing for the packaging business for a number of reasons.

Obviously, taking responsibility for a larger part of the semiconductor manufacturing process flow increases the importance of the packaging/test providers in the industry. With test becoming more difficult and critical – and expensive – the company performing the test function becomes a bigger part of the supply chain.

It also helps the industry as a whole to have a turnkey provider doing wafer probing, packaging and final test. With all of that being done by one company and possibly even at one facility, the turnaround times are improved and the potential sources of error are diminished.

The biggest benefit of taking on test, though, comes with the responsibility for such a capital-intensive enterprise. A big reason why test is the current hot potato in the industry is that test equipment has become so expensive, rivaling lithography tools but escalating even faster. Specifying, purchasing, maintaining, and owning a fleet of test equipment is a significant financial and organizational challenge, and jumping into the business either makes you a big-time “player” or puts you at risk of not being any kind of “player” before too long. It takes real pros to run a test business.

The packaging sub-contractors have identified this challenge, however, and seized an opportunity to increase the scope of their business. AIT, for example, has recently purchased domestic test companies, with the goal of providing closer engineering support starting with the design phase. Saeed Shakeri, AIT's VP of North America test operations, says that he can test any semiconductor device at his facility in Sunnyvale, and after seeing the assortment of equipment on his test floor, I wouldn't bet against him. STATS recently opened a new test facility in Silicon Valley, as well. ASE also has a domestic test division to stay in close touch with its customers' designers. Amkor took the test capability one step further last year by developing its own RF test systems.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the sub-contractors do as they expand in the direction of test. We'll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading,
Jeffrey C. Demmin
[email protected]


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