After a rough start for the decade, the market for semiconductor manufacturing equipment is roaring back, paced largely by back-end processes including automated testing. As the economy recovers, growth is fueled in large part by the challenges of dealing with faster ICs.
Gartner Inc. of Stamford, CN, predicts that the worldwide semiconductor equipment market will grow by 40 % this year. That's on top of a 10.3 % rise during 2003 Last year's total sales were $22.8 billion, according to Gartner. (http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2004/Apr/1029832.htm)
The rise is driven primarily by back-end operations. Automated test equipment
grew at a blistering 39.4 % last year, well above the 30.5 % for packaging and
assembly equipment. In contrast, front-end segments were led by wafer fab
equipment, where growth was only 3.6 %.
Kulicke & Soffa Industries Inc. of Willow Grove, PA, is attacking the market with a new test socket technique that increases speed and reduces the chances of damaging chips without increasing pricing. (http://www.kns.com/press/showpr.asp?IID=1698) The Quatrix test package uses photolithographic techniques to create the contacts that let a tester examine a chip. These circuits replace spring-loaded pins, which "are running out of performance," says Andrei Berar, vice president of the Package Test Business Unit.
Less pressure is needed to make contact with the planar interconnects, reducing the potential for damage, yet speed remains at the same levels. Accuracy is far more precise with lithographic socket connections than with electro-mechanical pins. Since the technique uses IC processing technologies, it will be easier to keep up with advances in IC technology, Berar says. Shipments will begin in the fourth quarter.
In another aspect of IC testing, Agilent Technologies Inc. of Palo Alto, CA,
unveiled an upgrade that enables signal integrity testing of high-speed serial
links up to 6.4 Gbits per second using a built-in self-test approach.
BIST-Assist 6.4 is designed for PCI Express, RapidIO and other high speed serial
interface chips. http://we.home.agilent.com/cgi-bin/bvpub/agilent/Product/cp_Product.jsp?NAV_ID=-536886938.536894305.00&LANGUAGE_CODE=eng&COUNTRY_CODE=US&JPID=/see/bistassist
The upgrade, set to ship in June, can be plugged into Agilent's 93000
Kulicke & Soffa's Quatrix test socket technology sets the stage for the future, shifting to lithographic processing instead of conventional electro-mechanical pin probes.