2634 Test Seq
Built-in Sequencer
Accelerates Testing
Test sequencing instruments lower test time,
equipment cost, and rack space.
Andrew Armutat, Keithley Instruments, Inc.
Narrowing profit margins are driving
electronic manufacturers to reduce production costs, including the cost of testing.
Generally, this involves efforts to reduce
test time, which is increasingly difficult as
products grow in complexity. Greater test
complexity presents another problem: fitting
more test functions into limited production
space. The profit pinch is exacerbated by
the current practice of concentrating product testing at the functional level, at the end
of the line, where failed units carry a heavy
burden of sunk production costs. This calls
for a shift to more up-front testing to eliminate bad parts earlier in the process, and requires fast, flexible test systems that lower
manufacturers’ cost of ownership. A new
generation of SMUs with a sophisticated
built-in test sequencer and intercommunication bus is making all this possible. This article explains how these features can be used
to build compact and economical systems for
fast multi-channel component testing.
Built-in Sequencer Accelerates Testing
Most electronic manufacturers are faced
with global competition, increasing product
complexity, and decreasing profit margins,
while product life cycles are shrinking.
These forces are driving efforts to reduce
product costs, including the cost of testing,
which tends to grow with product complex-
ity. The integration of analog, digital, and
even RF circuitry on a single IC chip means
higher density and pin counts. Higher pin
counts require more test channels to maintain acceptable throughput. Test system density must also increase to stay within limited
production space.
Currently, production ATE systems can
be categorized as bulky, high cost mainframe-based systems, slow instrument-based
systems using PC control, or fast instrumentbased systems that are extremely complex
to develop. None of these are optimized for
production processes. Manufacturers need
to improve the performance of existing test
stands, plus new test techniques, instruments, and systems that minimize the cost
of testing and ongoing ownership costs.
These solutions should allow the systems to
take on more of the test burden earlier in a
production cycle, thereby reducing high cost
end-of-the-line testing. In short, test systems
• Shorten test time
• Minimize test stand rack space
• Reduce development time
• Lower ownership costs
Matching Test Equipment to the
A common production need is a set of
repetitive test sequences that apply a voltage
or current, measure the response of a device
under test (DUT), compare it to acceptable
limits, and make a pass/fail decision. This is
especially true in early stages of production.
Simple 2- to 4-pin devices. This DUT
category includes diodes, LEDs, transistors,
Figure 1. Keithley Model 260X System SourceMeter® Instrument
June 2005
linear regulators, MEMs switches, relays,
etc. For 2-terminal devices, a fairly simple
source-measure procedure can be used.
Three- and four-terminal devices require
more complex testing and fast transient response on two test channels to generate accurate I-V curves. With fast component handlers (10ms/part), instrument speed is very
Component arrays. Examples include arrays of resistive chips, transient voltage suppressors, ferrite beads, and flip-chips. Tests
performed on these devices are the same as
those for discrete versions of these components. However, all individual devices must
pass the tests before an array is approved.
For high throughput, parallel multi-channel
testing is needed.
IC/RFIC/component-on-wafer testing.
In the early stages of production, a wide variety of complex, low-power devices require
measurements of quiescent and leakage current at nanoamp levels. In addition, all the
DUTs on a wafer require a simple set of DC
measurements to check basic functionality.
Because there are thousands of DUTs per
wafer, fast, multi-channel testing is mandatory.
Other complex devices/modules. Some
examples include power supplies, data acquisition cards, and hybrid ICs. Such testing
requires diverse instruments and measurements that can range from DC to RF. It often
requires tight timing between source-measure sequences and multiple instruments to
accurately characterize DUTs. Scalable instruments and test equipment modules are
usually needed to construct a customized
system with a large number of parallel channels.
Select the Test System
Consider architectures in the following
broad categories:
Single box/single channel I-V solutions
are often acceptable for testing less cost
sensitive devices that can tolerate the lower
speed of a sequential source-measure procedure. Multiple source-measure units (SMUs)
can be used with or without switch matrixes
to form a multi-channel system, but this
arrangement has limited rack density and
throughput. In smaller systems, SMUs are
typically used under PC control via GPIB
June 2005
and/or external trigger lines. Typically, test
programs for the PC utilize SCPI command
Parallel I-V systems are designed for
multiple DUT testing or for multi-channel
testing of more complex devices. Depending
on the DUT, test system throughput could
be limited by the instrument, application
program, or DUT settling time. Limitations
in existing parallel channel systems include
sequential channel hopping (i.e., no simultaneous measurements), limited voltage
or current range, lack of flexibility, bulky
equipment, and high cost.
Scalable multi-channel systems often
include diverse instruments to test complex
electronic modules. The two most common
types are integrated functional testers and
I-V test systems built from open API (application program interface) instrumentation.
Open API means that individual instruments are components in a customized test
solution, as opposed to a functional or parametric tester that is a complete prepackaged
(turnkey) system. SMUs are often a core
component in both architectures. Broadband
instrumentation (signal generators, oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers, etc.) tends to be
added externally. In turnkey systems, much
of the hardware and software integration has
been done for the user. The disadvantage is
relatively high cost. By contrast, open API
systems offer users and system integrators a
high degree of flexibility with the potential
for lower cost.
Ways to Lower Test Costs
Four system parameters have been identified as the key to lowering test costs: shorter
test times, reduced development time, smaller system size, lower cost of ownership. Each
parameter is multidimensional.
Shorten Test Times. Taking aside test
fixture loading, there are a few distinct intervals that take up the greatest portion of
test cycle time. Depending on system design,
these time intervals include:
• Source application, including signal transients
• DUT settling time
• Measurement, including range change if
• Trigger delays
• Data communications
• Program execution, including pass/fail
and binning decisions
• Test fixture movement and/or electrical
switching times
The first level of test time improvement is
gained by switching from individual source
and measure instruments to an integrated
SMU system. This cuts down on trigger delays and data communications time between
separate instruments and a PC controller.
If the SMU can store and execute a test sequence without PC control, this cuts down
on relatively slow GPIB traffic and PC latencies.
Some SMUs have program memory that
can run up to 100 predefined tests, make limit comparisons, perform conditional program
branching, and work with or without a PC. In
a single channel system, this type of SMU
allows significant test time improvement in a
straightforward manner. However, it’s much
more complicated in a multiple SMU system
due to the difficulty in managing multiple
triggers and test sequencers.
Because of this difficulty, older SMUs
have a sequencer that only uses command
cues, i.e., they store multiple GPIB commands that can be executed with a single
SCPI call from a PC. These SMUs do not
have logic to perform limit testing, or make
instantaneous pass/fail decisions. They
also do not have a DUT handler interface;
consequently, there is a great deal of GPIB
traffic. Furthermore, many older designs do
not allow parallel channel testing – channels
are accessed sequentially, so throughput improvement is marginal.
New SMUs Increase Throughput. A
new class of SMUs with a test script processor and high speed control bus solve the
problems just described. These SMUs allow
easy multi-channel scalability and simple
programming. Yet, they can run complex,
high-speed test sequences by sharing the
resources of multiple SMUs. For example,
Keithley Series 2600 System SourceMeter®
Instruments can be used in a master-slave
arrangement for true parallel channel measurements. Therefore, a test engineer can
take full advantage of other SMU features,
such as:
• 4-quadrant operation (source or sink +/–
voltage or current)
• Voltage and current sweep capabilities
• Wide dynamic range of source and measurement
Built-in Sequencer Accelerates Testing
Fast transient response
Picoamp sensitivity
Resolution as fine as 6½ digits
Memory for 100s of test sequences
High-speed for fast pass/fail testing
Digital I/O for general IO, trigger coordination, and component handler interface
In addition, the newest units have pulse
and low frequency arbitrary waveform generator capabilities that can be applied to each
channel. This simplifies complex testing by
providing a universal analog I/O pin for a
wide range of applications.
With these features, dramatic gains in
throughput can be realized by changing the
system programming approach. Instead of
using PC-based control, the SMU’s test sequencer and program memory control testing. Throughput is further enhanced with
Keithley’s Test Script Processor (TSP®),
high-speed sequencer, and fast control bus
(TSP-Link®). Multiple SMUs can be used
as if they are part of the same physical unit
for high-speed multi-channel testing. The
TSP-Link technology employs embedded
trigger lines and a 100Mbit/s serial bus that
allow parallel I-V sweeps across multiple
units with low trigger jitter (critical for high
bandwidth applications). Since ranging can
consume a lot of source-measure time, these
units have a wide dynamic range and seamless range switching to significantly speed up
test sequences.
Figure 2 illustrates a multiple SMU system of this type. Throughput is comparable
to mainframe-based systems.
Component Handler
Digital I/O
Test Leads
Test Fixture
Test Leads
Test Leads
Series 2600 A Test Leads
Digital I/O (Trigger Signals)
Figure 2. Keithley TSP-based multiple SMU test system.
it is easy to create complex test sequences
controlling multiple SMU channels acting
as a single entity. Evolving test requirements
are easily accommodated with a minimum
of SMU hardware changes.
Reduce Rack Space
The new Keithley units come in a highdensity, 2U half-rack design. In the transition
to higher pin count devices, this may allow a
multi-channel system to remain in one rack.
(Many test systems require 16 or fewer channels, but the Keithley systems accommodate
up to 128.)
Decrease Development Time
Lower Cost of Ownership
Having these SMU features in a single
box means there is less for a system designer
to integrate, and software development time
is reduced. Additionally, Keithley’s Test
Script Processor (TSP) provides an intuitive
command language similar to Basic as a simple programming interface. With TSP and
Keithley’s free Test Script Builder software,
A rack-and-stack SMU system eliminates
mainframe overhead and reduces hardware
costs. When the test system needs to be
changed, reusable SMU hardware and reduced software development also lower costs.
In addition, a smaller test system footprint
on the production floor generally equates to
lower ownership cost. For smaller systems,
a rack-and-stack design offers significant
advantages over mainframe systems, which
have a high cost per channel unless most of
the card slots are filled. For this reason, future mainframe expansions are also expensive.
The new generation of SMUs, exemplified by the Keithley Series 2600 Systems,
satisfies electronic manufacturers’ needs for
cost effective automated systems that rapidly test high pin count devices or multiple
devices in a production test fixture. These
SMUs can easily add new capabilities and
capacity to existing test stands and lower
capital investment in new stands. They offer
easy scalability, simpler system integration,
and small test stand footprints. Test systems
developed with these new SMUs can truly
lower the cost of ownership while increasing flexibility, performance, and reliability.
Specifications are subject to change without notice.
All Keithley trademarks and trade names are the property of Keithley Instruments, Inc.
All other trademarks and trade names are the property of their respective companies.
Keithley Instruments, Inc. 28775 Aurora Road • Cleveland, Ohio 44139 • 440-248-0400 • Fax: 440-248-6168
1-888-KEITHLEY (534-8453) • www.keithley.com
© Copyright 2005 Keithley Instruments, Inc.
Printed in the U.S.A.
Built-in Sequencer Accelerates Testing
No. 2634
June 2005
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