Strip Testing


Strip Testing refers to the process wherein semiconductor devices are electrically tested while they are still in their lead frame strips, i.e., before they are singulated into individual units.  Prior to testing, however, the devices in the strip have already undergone the lead trimming process for electrical isolation of their leads.


Strip testing promotes parallel testing of multiple units at the same time, increasing test throughput and reducing test cycle time. After strip testing, traditional end-of-line operations are performed, including mark, device singulation, vision sort, tape and reel, packing, labeling and shipping.


Strip testing is also sometimes referred to as 'matrix testing'. However, this can lead to confusion because the same phrase is used by some people to refer to a different (and more conventional) testing process that employs trays or carriers to hold singulated units in matrix arrangement.



Strip testing is a relatively new test process that is not applicable to all semiconductor packages.  In semiconductor manufacturing, assembly or packaging is traditionally kept separate from testing, which is done only after the units have been singulated. Since strip testing requires that singulation be performed only after the units have been tested, it is in effect inserting the test process within the assembly process.  The birth of strip testing, therefore, is a paradigm shift that ended the era of keeping assembly isolated from test.


Strip testing offers many benefits, especially in relation to recent advances in semiconductor manufacturing technologies. For instance, one of the major issues addressed by strip testing is the difficulties of handling very small packages (such as the chip scale packages or CSP's) after these have been singulated. 


Very small packages are difficult to handle, process, and test individually. An integrated assembly/test process involving strip testing keep these packages intact in their lead frame strips for majority of the manufacturing steps, eliminating direct handling of the individual units until they are singulated. 


This reduces the occurrence of handling-related issues like bent leads, package cracks, missing units, ESD damage, and the like. Aside from the more protected environment that the strips provide to the units, strips are also much easier to handle and process than individual devices.


Another advantage of strip testing is significant reduction in test cycle time, not only because of its parallel testing capability, but also because of the more efficient matrix indexing scheme that it employs. A single indexing step affects many units, whereas conventional serial processing will only affect a single unit at a time.


Strip testing has also successfully addressed the high cost of testing products that have short life cycles.  This is especially true for CSP's which, strictly speaking, needs to downsize its package dimensions every time the die is shrunk significantly to keep it in scale with the chip's new size, resulting in very short package life cycles.  Short life cycles present a problem in the conventional test process for singulated units, because every significantly new package style and size necessitates the fabrication of a new set of tools and accessories, such as trays and sockets.


Such retooling and reacquisition of new accessories when an old package changes or a new one arrives is not a problem for the strip-test process, since it uses robotic strip handlers and alignment technology that can be reprogrammed to adopt to the new package configurations.  'Package-independent' testing should in fact be a major consideration of anybody setting up strip testing capability.


Strip testing also facilitates lot tracking, since all devices are secured in their strips and can be precisely registered and identified by software, in the same way that die are tracked on a wafer map during wafer probing.  In fact, there is such a thing as a strip map, the strip testing equivalent of a wafer probe map.  Strip maps are used to record important data related to the lot and individual units on the strips. Strip mapping is very useful in lot traceability from assembly to test, troubleshooting, yield analysis, and statistical process control.


Amkor was the first semiconductor manufacturer to implement a high-density pre-singulation test process for many common IC packages, having achieved this by utilizing its high-density leadframe (HDLF) assembly technology in high-parallelism testing. Amkor has been doing matrix testing in volume production since February, 1999.


According to Amkor, the benefits of strip testing include:


- reduced cost of test primarily from high degree of parallelism;

- reduced cycle time from testing in line with assembly;

- consistently higher yields than singulated test (better contact methodology);

- higher quality from reduced handling (reduced bent leads);

- faster time for test development;

- part traceability to assembly;

- high strip density (up to 400 devices per strip);

- reduced floor space;

- better equipment utilization;

- significant reduction in test capital expenditures;

- immediate feedback to assembly.


Figure 1. Example of a Handler System used in Strip Testing


Strip testing, like any technology, has its own disadvantages. For one, it requires heavy reengineering of existing lines for its effective adaptation.   Secondly, assembly-test integration loses some of the flexibility offered by having both processes independent of each other. An assembly house that already has hundreds of different package configurations and sizes would have second thoughts about re-engineering its assembly production floor so that it can be integrated into a new strip-test process.


Another problem associated with strip testing is difficulty of retesting or rescreening fall-outs from an initial round of electrical testing.  Some of these initial fall-outs are invalid failures for one reason or another, which can be recovered by simply retesting them.  Depending on the level and nature of the yield loss, there comes a point wherein it is more profitable to retest the failures and recover the invalid failures.  This is easy to do when dealing with singulated units, since one can simply segregate and retest singulated rejects.


Strip retesting, unfortunately, is just like a second round of strip testing - the entire strip will have to go through the strip test process again, because that's how this parallel testing approach is set up.  Thus, even the good units in the strip get an extra 'handling' that they no longer need, potentially affecting their quality.


One solution offered for this problem is to just perform the retest on the rejects after singulation, this time using a test system for singulated units. Leaving the rejects unmarked makes them identifiable for this retest.


Another drawback of strip testing is the higher risk of units being damaged after electrical testing, which can reach the customer if OQA is not able to detect the problem.  The higher risk is simply due to the number of critical manufacturing steps that the units still need to undergo after they've been subjected to final test.  Thus, it is necessary to conduct strict process evaluations and qualifications to ensure that steps following strip testing (notably singulation) will not induce any damage to the units.


Other challenges for strip testing include the following: 


1) design and fabrication of lead frames that would allow proper debussing (trimming or isolation) of all the leads of very high pin count devices without detaching the units from the strip;

2) design of contactors with very precise alignment capabilities;

3) design of strip test modules that can adapt to as many packages as possible;

4) resolution of high mechanical force problems associated with connecting a high number of pins at the same time;

5) design of effective temperature soaking systems for correct thermal conditioning of units prior to temperature testing;

6) power and thermal management for parallel testing of multiple high-power devices;

7) reduction of cross-talk between the devices under test;

8) better understanding of ESD phenomena associated with the new strip test set-ups.  


The following excerpts from a press release taken off the internet illustrates how strip testing is currently implemented by its originator, Amkor:


"In a cooperative effort, the three companies will be jointly exhibiting the Amkor-developed strip test process using an MCT Tapestry(TM) automated strip handling system integrated with a Nextest Maverick II GT digital tester....


By combining standardized strip handling tooling and robotics, new generation test systems, and simplified contactor methodologies, this new process allows massively parallel test at full device operating speeds. Devices are tested in groups of 16, 32, 64 and up to 128 devices at one time while also increasing quality and test yields. Test costs can be reduced by 50% or more due to the high parallelism and fast handler index times. Test yields can increase by 5% due to more reliable contact methodologies, and bent leads can be virtually eliminated, since the contacting of the device leads during test now occurs prior to the lead form operation.


Amkor currently has several of the combined (MCT/Nextest) strip test systems in production and has tested over 200 million units in strip test form."


Test Links:  Electrical Test Burn-in

See Also:  CSPIC Manufacturing;  Test Equipment




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