How to improve the competitiveness of chip testing through independent ATE equipment?
Regarding the strength of my country’s semiconductors, it can be seen from a set of data. The total amount of chips imported by China has exceeded 200 billion US dollars for six consecutive years, and the annual import value of Chinese chips from 2018 to 2020 is about 300 billion US dollars. In 2020, China’s chip demand is about 350 billion US dollars, while China produces 56 billion US dollars, and the proportion of self-production is 16%. With the development of the import substitution situation, the slope of the snowball is high and long, and Chinese chips usher in a golden 10 years of development. Our goal is that by 2030, the scale of self-produced chips can reach 350 billion US dollars in the Chinese demand market of about 500 billion US dollars, and the self-produced proportion will reach 70%.
To achieve this ambition, all aspects of the chip need to work together. We all know that there are many links involved in a chip, including design, manufacturing, packaging and testing, and each link is critical to the final chip. Among them, chip testing is a key and necessary link from R&D to mass production, and it is also a major breakthrough in the development of semiconductors in my country.
What is the pattern of the domestic chip testing market?
It has to be said that almost all chip industry chains now have a huge cake, and chip testing is no exception. According to the forecast of Gartner Consulting and CLSA: In 2025, the global chip testing service market is expected to reach 109.4 billion yuan, of which China’s chip testing service market will reach 55 billion yuan, accounting for 50.3%, and there will be more than 250 million in 5 years. billions of huge growth potential.
Chip testing mainly includes two aspects of testing, wafer testing CP and finished product testing FT. Wafer testing CP is particularly important in multi-chip packaging scenarios, which can effectively avoid the failure of a single chip to cause other chips to be “burial” together; finished products Testing FT can effectively screen out the damaged chips during the packaging process. The two-pronged approach ensures the final chip quality. For high-end chips like 7nm, 5nm, and 3nm, chip testing is more important, which can realize a closed loop from R&D to mass production and guide chip design.
Of course, the equipment used in different testing processes is also different. The testing machine and probe station are mainly used in the wafer testing stage, and the testing machine and sorting machine are used in the finished product testing stage. In the entire ranks of test equipment, ATE is the core equipment for chip testing. Now, especially high-end chips, ATE test equipment is very much needed to ensure production. The total size of the chip ATE automated test equipment market alone has reached 7 billion US dollars.
However, in the market structure of ATE equipment, the voice of domestic enterprises is not optimistic. The two giants of the United States and Japan, Teradyne and Advantest, occupy a total of 90% of the market share, and the two have swept almost all well-known semiconductor companies.
Domestic testing companies started more beautifully, and Japanese testing companies were about 40 years later. It is difficult for domestic equipment to be comprehensive in function and meet all usage scenarios. After decades of verification, foreign equipment can ensure that the equipment is stable and reliable, and can meet the long-term testing needs of various chips to the greatest extent. In addition, to develop fully functional test equipment, a lot of capital needs to be invested to increase performance, which is difficult for domestic companies that are not large enough.
Therefore, the status quo is that domestic test equipment companies have a large order-of-magnitude gap compared with the US and Japanese giants in terms of equipment introduction, company revenue, profits and employees. Take Huafeng Measurement and Control, the most mature and leading ATE test equipment manufacturer in my country, as an example, the following set of data can intuitively see the gap between domestic ATE equipment manufacturers and American and Japanese giants:
On the afternoon of September 17th, the “Insimo Yangtze River Delta Empowering Industry Development” China (Nanjing) was jointly sponsored by the People’s Government of Yuhuatai District, Nanjing, China (Nanjing) Software Valley Management Committee, and undertaken by Innovo Market Information Consulting (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. ) Software Valley Integrated Circuit Industry (Shanghai) Investment Promotion Conference was successfully held in Pudong, Shanghai. At the meeting, Zhang Jingyang, chairman and CEO of Moore Elite, delivered a keynote speech on “How Independent ATE Equipment Improves the Competitiveness of Chip Testing Services”. Zhang Jingyang analyzed the situation of ATE equipment and testing services, and pointed out that the current chip testing modes are mainly divided into two types , mode one is a simple “equipment sales” mode; mode two is a “test service” mode. Both modes have different drawbacks. The “device sale” model is characterized by the fact that the device sold must cover all existing and potential chip testing needs, and is expensive, increasing customer decision and switching costs. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to quickly accumulate sales and installed capacity, and it is difficult to continuously invest in research and development for a long time; the characteristic of the “testing service” model is that the test factory purchases or leases test equipment, and the customer pays the service fee according to the current specific needs. But customer stickiness is low. The disadvantage is more obvious, that is, it is impossible to master the core technology of ATE equipment, and most of the profits are taken away by ATE test equipment companies.
“The existing testing equipment and technologies are built on the original foundation. Only by innovating and establishing new rules can we have the opportunity to break the monopoly.” Zhang Jingyang pointed out, “To participate in global competition, you need to gather top international technical experts to create A professional testing team with combat effectiveness and strong comprehensive capabilities.”
How to break the existing pattern of ATE test equipment?
In response to these pain points in the industry, Moore Elite proposed the exploration of the “independent ATE equipment + digital testing service” model. Zhang Jingyang explained that through his own research and development of ATE equipment, the equipment will not be sold, but leased to customers, adhering to the principle of “only renting, not selling” to provide customers with testing services. This is also the successful model of KYEC verification by KYEC, the world’s largest testing factory, with an annual sales of 6.8 billion yuan.
Zhang Jingyang said that this model can solve some of the difficulties of the existing model. On the one hand, it can promote ATE equipment through testing services: with innovative architecture ATE equipment technology as the core, through testing services, support Chinese chip companies to accelerate domestic substitution, and quickly increase the installed capacity of ATE equipment, obtain mass production data feedback, and optimize the performance of ATE equipment In turn, testing services can be improved through ATE equipment: recruiting top-level teams around the world, continuing to invest heavily in the research and development of top-level ATE equipment, providing digital testing services for chip companies, improving testing service levels, and improving chip quality.
From solution development, new product introduction to NPI to mass production maintenance, Moore Elite can provide flexible one-stop mass production services for the whole process of chip testing. Zhang Jingyang pointed out that domestic head mobile phone manufacturers and foreign RF giants benefit from this full-process test service model, thereby reducing test costs.
Moore Elite provides three flexible modes: Turnkey Mode, Backstage, and Revenue Share:
Test turnkey: The design company orders the testing business to Moore Elite, who will provide production services, and Moore Elite will use its own production capacity or other cooperative testing factories to help customers do mass production.
Background mode: The design company executes the mass production orders from the packaging and testing factory, and Moore Elite provides testing machines and testing solutions. Moore Elite rents the machine to the packaging and testing factory or customers, and the products are measured in the packaging and testing factory. Produce.
Sharing model: The design company places an order to the packaging and testing factory, Moore Elite Consign equipment enters the factory, and the income is divided with the packaging and testing factory.
Moore Elite also intends to build a “DFT design + test development + ATE equipment” collaborative optimization one-stop ATE test platform. This platform can run through all links of the industry chain and continue to optimize, and can cover domestic and foreign mid-to-high-end chip design companies to the greatest extent. Testing needs from R&D to mass production.
To achieve this goal is not overnight, nor can we build equipment from scratch, so where should we start from the specific practice?
Standing on the shoulders of the Texas Instruments VLCT
In the mid-1990s, the testing department of Texas Instruments (TI) independently developed VLCT, a general-purpose chip automatic test equipment for internal use only. Since then, VLCT has experienced three development stages, providing important support for product development and company development. .
The first stage (before 2002): VLCT was rapidly promoted within TI, and gradually replaced the test products of LTX’s MegaTest, Teradyne’s J750, Eagle and other ATE machines; the second stage (2003~2008): VLCT was It has been improved into an instrument with ultra-low test cost for large-scale chips, covering all of TI’s advanced large-scale mobile terminal chips; VLCT also has the ability to test 90% of TI’s products, and almost 100% of TI’s wafer testing and testing. High-yield chip testing; Phase 3 (2009-2012): Almost all of TI’s new product testing and development was carried out directly on VLCTs, with the overall installed capacity exceeding 3,500 units, and VLCTs undertook more than 80% of the internal testing workload.
Today, the VLCT tester can cover most types of SOC chips/digital-analog hybrid chips/RF chip tests on the market, and most of them have a coverage rate of more than 90%, such as amplifiers, audio, data converters, interfaces, logic and voltage. Conversion, microcontrollers and processors, motor drives, power management, sensors, switches and multiplexers, and more.
VLCT test equipment can be said to have undergone the double test of time and practice. Its technology is mature, and it embodies the achievements of general-purpose ATE test equipment that TI has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in independent research and development in the past two decades. Secondly, its performance is reliable. It has been verified by large-scale long-term mass production of tens of billions of chips to meet the testing needs of mid-to-high-end chips. At present, VLCT continues to serve ATE testing of TI’s products on sale. Furthermore, it has strong versatility and abundant test resource configuration, which can cover most types of SOC chips/digital-analog hybrid chips/RF chip tests on the market. Finally, it is cost-effective. Compared with the same product, it can reduce the test cost by more than 1/2, and can replace the mid-to-high-end ATE of mainstream brands with lower configuration performance and cost.
For this reason, Moore Elite chose to acquire Texas Instruments’ VLCT equipment, introduce the world’s leading technology into China, and build its own ATE test machine. According to Zhang Jingyang, using VLCT test equipment has great advantages in operation management. The biggest performance is that its cost is only 1/10 of that of mainstream ATE testing services. Taking the 460-unit ATE ownership as an example, it can save testing operating expenses/increase net profit by 160 million.
Regarding the Moore ATE test project, Moore Elite has full confidence. Because not only the addition of VLCT equipment, but also the core R&D personnel of VLCT are under the command of Moore Elite. It is reported that this project has a team of more than 50 top testing experts from around the world, from China, the United States and France.
The ATE equipment independently developed by Moore Elite is comparable to the high-end mainstream equipment in the international market. VLCT1.0 versions T0 and T1 can currently cover about 50%-60% of the industry’s mid-range chip testing needs, which are relatively advanced SoC testing machines in China. At present, the R&D team is developing the next-generation VLCT equipment products. Zhang Jingyang said that the product iteration is mainly to optimize the performance of the equipment through the continuous increase of new boards, and the second-generation products will cover 80% of the industry’s testing needs.
The performance of the new generation of self-hosted VLCT2.0 is better than VLCT1.0 and the test equipment in the market. VLCT2.0 has carried out a series of technical upgrades, including new boards combined with self-designed board-level solutions, digital aspects can achieve up to tens of thousands of channels, and resources in analog aspects are significantly improved. VLCT2.0 embeds RF modules, Its application breadth has been greatly improved; the modularization method of stacking wood can provide flexible and large-scale model services; the desktop engineering machine allows rapid debugging, and can be seamlessly transferred to scalable mass production machines, etc.
In general, VLCT2.0 can be compared with the high-end models of the world’s leading manufacturers, can meet a wider range of customer needs, and can greatly shorten the time-to-market time. Moreover, the team has strong research and development strength, and the equipment is independently developed, which can greatly increase the machine speed and testing capacity. Zhang Jingyang believes that VLCT2.0 is expected to occupy the global chip high-end test market share, which will be the advanced general-purpose ATE equipment leading the industry trend in the next 20 years.
Ten-year test business plan
Regarding the testing business, Moore Elite has a clear plan for ten years. According to Zhang Jingyang, the company expects to build its own ATE test equipment in 2021-2023. Master core technology and develop mid-to-high-end independent ATE equipment. Adopt the lane-changing overtaking mode, combined with testing services to increase the installed capacity of autonomous ATE equipment. Through mass production feedback, the matching degree of independent ATE equipment and domestic chip testing will be improved.
From 2024 to 2025, the company will invest in the research and development of high-end ATE equipment. Completed the production of the world’s top testing machine VLCT2.0 and put it into use. Narrow the technical gap with the international top ATE, and then seize the global chip high-end testing market. At the same time, based on independent ATE equipment, the test service level is improved to help customers improve the quality of chips.
By 2026-2030, as mentioned above, Moore Elite wants to change the current form of the test equipment industry and create a digital test platform. At present, the equipment industry is equipment-centric. The equipment is developed first, and then the customer tests the product based on the equipment. But in fact, what the customer wants is not a particularly powerful equipment, but a cost-effective test solution. Moore Elite wants to focus on data and customer needs. Therefore, this is why Moore Elite adheres to the principle of “only renting and not selling” equipment. Its advantage is that if rented, it can continuously get feedback of data and guide the research and development of next-generation equipment.
By laying out the world’s top teams, mastering the core technologies of top ATE equipment, and building a digital chip test platform with “DFT design + test development + ATE equipment” collaborative optimization. Finally, through “cloud computing + digital intelligence”, the deep integration of artificial intelligence technology will improve the efficiency of the testing industry.
On the eve of China’s chip take-off, all links must not fall off the chain, and everyone is gathering firewood and the flame is high, and Moore Elite is improving the competitiveness of domestic chip testing through the service of independent ATE equipment.