System-Level Tests: The Way to the Future for the Semiconductor Industry

Stuart Pearce, Field Marketing, Senior Director, AEMStuart Pearce, Field Marketing, Senior Director
Semiconductors play an integral role in products and operations that power the digital economy and the global economy in general. While the chips themselves make up a small percentage of the global GDP, they help to power trillions of dollars of goods and processes that keep the world running.

Almost any digital product in the market has some form of semiconductor device in it, which makes the industry a necessity today. Despite the recent shortage in semiconductor chips, global semiconductor sales reached nearly USD$439 billion in 2020, a 6.5% increase from 2019.

In the future, more industries and technologies will require semiconductors to enable computing and data processing, with analysts already forecasting that the semiconductor market will grow by 12.5% year-on-year to USD$522 billion in 2021, driven by continued robust growth in consumer, computing, 5G, and automotive semiconductors.

Paradigm shift in semiconductor manufacturing

A key driver of semiconductor companies is its manufacturing capabilities. Although internal manufacturing has worked for the industry in the earlier days, semiconductor companies have realized that consolidation and time-to-market success in foundries can enable them to compete successfully without their own semiconductor fabs.

Last year, Accenture found that the semiconductor value chain involves an average of 25 countries in its direct supply - and a product can cross international borders as many as 70 times before it reaches the end customer.
However, the current geopolitical reality, coupled with the pandemic, has driven a rethink of the entire global supply chain for technology. While some chip makers have shifted their strategies to build their own foundry capacity to serve the global demand for semiconductor manufacturing, others are sparing no effort to become self-sufficient in semiconductors to satisfy domestic demand.

Big Data and increasing complexity of chips

In addition to the paradigm shift in semiconductor manufacturing, the industry is set to benefit from an explosion in Big Data generated increasingly by machines. The processing and analysis of Big Data will fuel the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning and in turn, increase the need for more powerful computers with even more complex semiconductors and components.

Furthermore, with the roll-out of 5G and prevalence of edge computing, AI and IoT, many devices are becoming increasingly complex with multiple IP nodes such as system in package (SiP) and system on chip (SoC) being put into a single package, together with the presence of heterogeneous packaging and chiplets.

All of this requires increased demand for handling and testing services, as the industry moves from traditional semiconductor 1.0 to meet the requirements of semiconductor 2.0.

System-Level Tests and the future of test

Traditionally, companies have preferred to test using ATE (automatic test equipment) and optimize the test flow. However, the complexity of today’s devices makes traditional functional testing methods less effective and almost impossible, as these methods are unable to assure the necessary test coverage to deliver the reliability demanded by today’s applications. The only way forward is to run them through System-Level Tests (SLT).

SLT allows millions of chips to be tested in parallel at high speeds so that customers can increase their throughput while getting maximum test coverage. By 2024, SLT is expected to grow 4.4x faster than wafer sort and functional test.

AEM, in particular, has a very unique and highly-differentiated way of conducting SLT. Using an enhanced SLT, companies can test high-end semiconductor devices in either processors, automotive devices or mobility devices with full coverage.

Leveraging world-leading thermal capabilities, application specific testers, and intelligent handlers, AEM has delivered a paradigm-shifting solution to the world’s semiconductor test needs.

All in all, semiconductor companies need to rethink their strategy, given that the global semiconductor shortage is expected to continue at least in the short term. In the long run, it is imperative for semiconductor companies to future-proof their strategy by working with partners with end-to-end expertise and distributed global architecture in manufacturing, to minimize the impact from future disruptions.

This is more critical than ever with the semiconductor industry’s growing significance in powering the global economy in an increasingly digital world.