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ATE Loadboard Automated Assembly

For years, manually assembling chip test boards has been a common practice in the semiconductor industry. However, newer, more advanced semiconductor devices like DSPs, ASICs, FPGAs, multi-core µPs, memory, and RF devices demand increasingly greater test accuracies. And they are putting manual assembly to the test. Consequently, those error-prone manually assembled test boards are giving way to the highly improved precision provided by automated assembly of test boards. Aside from the increased accuracy and precision automated assembly offers, it also helps to significantly reduce debug time and boost repeatability for semiconductor test engineers. Output limitations usually experienced with manual assembly is generally not a factor in automated assembly. Once a pick and place machine has been set up, a single board can be stuffed within fractions of the time a fully manual assembly takes, an multiple boards/assemblies can be performed simultaneously at the same speed, whereas manual assemblies are processed one at a time with the speed (and accuracy) varying, depending on the technician. It does take an extra day or two to set up a board for automated assembly. However, in most cases, the payback is worth the wait and the set up is required for the first run only. The information is saved so that repeat builds of that board can be processed expeditiously.

Here are some tips for successfully working with your assembly house to assure you get the test board that’ll successfully and quickly launch your new chip into the market.

  • Finalize your documentation before handing the design over to the assembly house; periodic changes delay your project, but more importantly, can lead to potential misunderstandings.
  • Work with the assembly house ahead of time to provide a complete and final BOM, as well as other required files (needed for pick and place programming.)
  • Keep in mind the price for achieving greater accuracy and precision via automated assembly is maintaining strict procedures.
  • Get a thorough understanding of an assembly house’s equipment, including pick and place machines, and its policies for thermal profiles and re-flow.
  • Select an assembly house with a proven track record for assembling test boards. Untrained personnel can quickly jeopardize your project by applying unnecessary steps associated with normal PCB assembly.
  • Consult your assembly house ahead of time about your test board design and work in tandem with them to assure your test board is successfully and quickly assembled.

By following these suggestions, semiconductor companies and their test engineers will realize more effective chip testing. Plus, they’ll get their new products to market faster.