ABI Electronics Ltd
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Flexibility leads ABI Electronics to success with new product

 

 

In this article:

 

  • Urgent requirement for test equipment from Asian customer
  • Project brief : increase test capabilities to reduce fault finding time
  • Partnering with ABI Electronics for technical expertise and fast turnaround
  • New product release : the Advanced Test Module

 

 

INTRODUCTION

The semiconductor industry is the collection of companies engaged in the design and fabrication of semiconductor devices. It formed around 1960 and has grown to be the 260 billion dollar industry it is today. Manufacturing sites are predominately located in the USA, the European Union and South East Asia and bring names such as Intel, Samsung and Infineon.

 

Consequently, the amount of process and control equipment in this industry is estimated in the hundreds of thousands and the need for their maintenance and repair is now greater than ever.

 

A Chinese company with solid connections in the semiconductor industry and experience in electronics repair spotted a gap in the market. The company’s aim is to offer a fast and efficient repair service for all kinds of semiconductor equipment. They currently have 3 offices employing 25 engineers full time – another office with a further 10 engineers will open later this year.

 

 

TECHNICAL OVERVIEW

Up until the end of 2009, the repair process at this company consisted in swapping suspect components on a board using solder irons and de-soldering stations. This technique was unreliable and costly and also led to long lead times. What’s more, damages to the boards could easily occur during chip replacements – this was a serious issue as some of the boards are worth thousands of dollars.

 

After a thorough market research, the chief executive officer realised that some dedicated repair equipment was required in order to offer a sustainable service and to take advantage of the large market available. This is when the company contacted ABI Electronics.

 

 

THE PROPOSAL

With over 27 years of experience in the field of test and measurement, ABI Electronics offers a range of solutions with direct applications in the land forces, navy, air force, transport, telecoms, education and repair & maintenance in general.

Even though the initial project brief immediately stated that the products should cater for a large variety of boards, ABI Electronics was already able to offer a solution to answer these requirements. The initial proposal included :

 

  • CircuitMaster 4000M : this equipment combines traditional instruments such as DSO and Voltmeter with unique test techniques (e.g. active mode) to measure and detect signals on any types of boards.
  • SYSTEM 8 AICT : this module is aimed at in-circuit functional testing of analogue devices, thus enabling users to easily check components such as analogue switches, op amps and transistors.
  • SYSTEM 8 BFL : this module is designed to test digital devices in or out of circuit including logic gates and sequential logic components.

 

TECHNICAL CHALLENGE

Thanks to the presence of an ABI engineer on site, it was established that the company’s requirements also included the testing of more complex devices which are particularly common in semiconductor test equipment. Some examples included :

 

  • Line Driver and Receivers (series 75xxx) that are used in differential signal circuits.
  • Analogue to Digital Converters (ADC) and Digital to Analogue Converters (DAC) which can be easily damaged and are usually expensive.
  • ECL devices which are notoriously difficult to test due to their negative voltage logic.

 

Although some level of testing was already available with the initial proposal of products, the company required that minimal user input be implemented. It was also necessary for the complete solution to be simple to use and to require minimum effort should any other devices or applications be added in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Typical two-sided PCB received for maintenance


 

 

 

 

Typical PCB received for maintenance

 

 

 

 

 

DEVELOPMENT

Based on the information above and by keeping in constant contact with the customer, ABI Electronics was able to establish the following project plan :

 

  • Design a solution to functionally test ECL, 75XXX, ADC and DAC devices
  • Incorporate existing digital test capabilities into the solution
  • Introduce a simple to use software interface for users
  • Devise an easy way to test new devices without programming
  • Include a programming facility for advanced users
  • Retain a degree of flexibility (software/hardware) for future developments

 

The solution was to be provided to the customer within a period of 4 months.

 

ABI quickly realised that, in order to make this solution more flexible and to target a larger market area, the testing capabilities of the prototype should not be limited to the technology required by the customer. It was therefore decided that the end product would incorporate testing capabilities for all logic families, including ECL, TTL, LVTTL, CMOS, 3V3, DTl, LSI, RTL, PECL, LVPECL etc…

 

Furthermore, in order to expand the module’s ability to reach new markets, the hardware was designed to enable complete assemblies to be tested at board level. This would offer a new approach to measurement and fault-finding on electronics boards.

 

 

 

PRODUCT

After only 3 months, the first prototype was sent to the customer for evaluation. The initial tests carried out by the ABI and local engineers were very successful and prompted confidence from the customer in the ability of ABI Electronics to provide a suitable solution in timely manner.

 

The solution, known as the Advanced Test Module (ATM), was able to successfully test ECL devices in-circuit as requested. The technical specifications of the ATM allowed for positive and negative voltages to be driven and sensed together with a higher backdriving current for testing in-circuit. Over 20 test programs were written for the customer in order to make testing accessible to inexperienced users. A graphical interface was developed to allow engineers to quickly set up functional tests for new devices without programming. The library development software was also improved to allow advanced users to develop test programs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Advanced Test Module with USB interface

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

Based on the products and support they received, the company decided to introduce a standard set of equipment for each of its engineers in order to work quickly and efficiently towards maintaining and repairing boards from all kinds of semiconductor test equipment. The standard set includes :

  • CircuitMaster 4000M Precision Active Oscilloscope (view product page here)
  • SYSTEM 8 Analogue IC Tester (AICT - view product page here)
  • SYSTEM 8 Advanced Test Module (ATM - view product page here)

ABI is expecting an initial order quantity of 25 sets. The company has also expressed interest in another ABI product, the SENTRY Counterfeit IC Detector.

 

Visit the Advanced Test Module product page.