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Will the new ATE standards group work?

Posted: 13 Nov 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:low-cost IC test  automatic test equipment  ATE vendors  ATE standards 

For years, chip makers have been screaming about the need for lower-cost IC test.

One of the by-products in low-cost IC test is standards. Suppliers of automatic test equipment (ATE) have made several strides to lower the cost of test by rolling out new testers, but they have fallen way short on the standardisation front.

There are several important IEEE standards in ATE. But over the years, ATE vendors have agreed to disagree on many other standards, as they have refused to work with each other in the arena. Instead, over the decades, they have developed their own, proprietary ATE hardware and software, each claiming that their technologies are better than competitive offerings.

There have been several attempts to develop ''standards'' on several fronts, such as a common ATE platform, probe card interfaces and others. But most of those efforts—namely from the Semiconductor Test Consortium (STC)—have flopped.

Now, there is a new effort to drive ATE standards. Late last month, Advantest, Amkor, Infineon, Intel, LTX-Credence, Qualcomm, Roos Instruments, Teradyne and Verigy formed a new organisation.

The group, dubbed the Collaborative Alliance for Semiconductor Test (CAST), intends to foster pre-competitive collaboration, devise ATE standards, define and measure benchmark criteria, and act as a representative and an advocate for the members.

The announcement prompted several questions: Why the sudden interest in ATE standards after years' of futility in the arena? Will ATE makers finally get down to business and drive standards? If so, what kind of standards will CAST deliver? And who will benefit?

Members from CAST did not outline or specify their exact goals at a recent event. They are supposed to outline their plans over time.

Many doubt if the new CAST organisation—and its efforts to drive standards—will work at all. Chip makers and ATE vendors are still oceans apart when it comes to their own interests. ''The chip makers want standards, while the ATE vendors want differentiation,'' said Jim Mulady, editor of the Final Test Report. ''That's a pretty big wall.''

Others believe the timing of the CAST announcement was suspicious. It was uplifting to see competitive ATE makers on the same stage, but some wonder if the event was a mere photo opportunity—or PR event. After all, the often-forgotten ATE industry needs a little attention now and then. Perhaps a little love.

Or, perhaps there was another motive: ATE vendors are crying for help amid the IC downturn and economic crisis. In its most recent forecast, Gartner Inc., projects that the ATE market will fall by 26.7 per cent in 2008, but it could rebound by 5 per cent in 2009.

But stay tuned. That forecast could change for the worse, leaving some to wonder if the industry will fall to the depths of the horrific 2001 downturn.

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