In my last article on semiconductor test capacity, I talked about how to properly track your test capacity. I explained how taxonomy, completeness, and accessibility are vital to achieving the accuracy and precision needed to create a foundation upon which you can efficiently specify, value, match, plan, and trade your test capacity.
But who really cares about carefully tracking the configurations of ATE anyway? The simple answer is: everybody. It's not just test engineers or ATE manufacturers, but chip designers, procurement managers, product managers, and many others as well. Below are the four major groups of stakeholders who rely on accurate and precise descriptions of ATE configurations and capacity to efficiently fulfill their role in the test ecosystem.
Specifiers, suppliers, equipment manufacturers, and third-party test providers must work together to produce manufacturing test systems.
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1. Test specifiers. The test specifier defines the test capacity needed to test a given device, comprising, in part, the ATE configuration. The test specifier is typically the design and test team of the fabless company or the IDM (integrated device manufacturer). Exact test capacity specifications or configurations are important to the test specifier when developing test programs, communicating requirements to test providers, or orders to test equipment manufacturers. Inaccurate or missing configuration information here can lead to delays in program development and production ramps, affecting time to market.
2. Test providers. The test provider is primarily a test subcontractor or IDM manufacturing organization. This group owns the majority of the test capacity in the world. Their business model and performance depends on efficient aggregation of customer test requirements and utilization of their test capacity, requiring tracking and planning at the lowest level of ATE configurability. Exact configuration information will also help these ATE owners value their inventory of capacity for financial accounting or service pricing purposes. Of all four groups, test providers rely the most on accurate and precise ATE configurations to survive in their very competitive segment of the test ecosystem.
3. Test equipment manufacturers. The test equipment manufacturer builds the ATE configurations that are required by the test specifier and test provider. New order information must therefore include the exact details of the configuration needed. The components of an upgrade to an existing ATE system will also often depend on the specific hardware and licensing already included in the current system. Increasingly, more sophisticated license management tools rolled out by these manufacturers further depend on some way of accessing and tracking each and every ATE feature license owned by a given customer.
4. Third-party suppliers. An often overlooked category of ATE configuration users is the third-party supplier. These suppliers are providing services such as test program development and used equipment sourcing and remarketing. Much like their counterparts in the primary market, these suppliers rely heavily on accurate ATE configuration information, and often struggle to obtain it. A used equipment reseller, for example, must not only know exactly what its buyer wants, but also the options, licensing, and even board part numbers and revision levels of the used equipment available to build the final ATE solution for the buyer.