The Economics of Test, Part - III

However, if devices are tested, feature sizes can be reduced and more die will fit on each wafer. Even after the die are tested and defective die are discarded, the number of good die per wafer exceeds the number available at the larger feature sizes. The benefit in terms of increasing numbers of good die obtainable from each wafer far outweighs the cost of testing the die in order to identify those that are defective. Point B on the graph corresponds to a point where process yield is lower than the required quality level. However, testing will identify enough defective units to bring quality back to the required quality level. The horizontal distance from point A to point B on the graph is an indication of the extent to which the process capability can be made more aggressive, while meeting quality goals. The object is to move as far to the right as possible, while remaining competitive. At some point the cost of test will be so great, and the yield of good die so low, that it is not economically feasible to operate to the right of that point on the solid line.

We see therefore that we are caught in a dilemma: Testing adds cost to a product, but failure to test also adds cost. Trade-offs must be carefully examined in order to determine the right amount of testing. The right amount is that amount which minimizes total cost of testing plus cost of servicing or replacing defective components. In other words, we want to reach the point where the cost of additional testing exceeds the benefits derived. Exceptions exist, of course, where public safety or national security interests are involved.

Another useful side effect of testing that should be kept in mind is the information derived from the testing process. This information, if diligently recorded and analyzed, can be used to learn more about failure mechanisms. The kinds of defects and the frequency of occurrence of various defects can be recorded and this information can be used to improve the manufacturing process, focusing attention on those areas where frequency of occurrence of defects is greatest.

This test versus cost dilemma is further complicated by “time to market.” Quality is sometimes seen as one leg of a triangle, of which the other two are “time to market” and “product cost.” These are sometimes posited as competing goals, with the suggestion that any two of them are attainable.25 The implication is that quality, while highly desirable, must be kept in perspective. Business Week magazine, in a feature article that examined the issue of quality at length, expressed the concern that quality could become an end in itself. The importance of achieving a low defect level in digital components can be appreciated from just a cursory look at a typical PCB. Suppose, for example, that a PCB is populated with 10 components, and each component has a defect level DL = 0.999. The likelihood of getting a defect free board is (0.999)10 = 0.99004; that is, one of every 100 PCBs will be defective—and that assumes no defects were introduced during the manufacturing process. If several PCBs of comparable quality go into a more complex system, the probability that the system will function correctly goes down even further.

About the Author:
Name: Joachim Bauer, Test Engineer
Experience: 13+ Yrs
Location: Nice, France

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