Inevitably, in any product’s life cycle, there will arise an obstacle that may seem insurmountable: products may experience unexpected levels of inexplicable malfunctions after hitting store shelves, low production yields may wipe out any hope of profitability, or any of a number of other issues can rear their heads. When faced with such gremlins, manufacturers often struggle to find the best approach for solving their woes - without being able to pin down the problem, finding a solution is impossible. External failure analysis services can often be invaluable in such situations; however, the task of choosing a lab - and providing them with the information needed to ensure their success - can be difficult as well. Fortunately there are some tips that can help in the process of hiring an electronics failure analysis service, to ensure that the necessary results are obtained.
Just as an in-depth history is vital for an analyst to quickly and efficiently drive a failure to resolution, an accurate, concise description of the issue plaguing a device is absolutely necessary. Just like taking a car into the mechanic, a failure analyst can diagnose an issue more efficiently if the problem description is more in-depth than “funny noise when driving”. Any problem reported by the client will, at some point, need to be translated into a testable condition by the FA team - providing the most complete description of the problem possible will allow an analyst to properly design a test program to isolate the root cause of the failure. In the same vein, it is often beneficial to provide a sample that is working properly along with the failing sample; by giving a golden unit to compare against, it is possible to employ techniques that greatly increase sensitivity to small defects, by allowing analysts to separate normally-occurring phenomena from those stemming from the failure of the device. For so-called “functional failures”, in which cases a device is still mostly operational (i.e. is not short- or open-circuited), but may not give a correct output, the use of a correlation sample is almost mandatory, since the normal operation of such a device will often create many of the indicators (photoemission, thermal hot-spots, et cetera) that analysts use to isolate failure sites - in order to find the true failure, they must have some way of filtering out those sites that are inherent to the normal operation of the device.
Once the initial data about a failure has been collected and filtered for any unnecessary or sensitive data in order to ensure the best results from a given failure analysis job, the next step is to evaluate and choose a lab to handle the project. In part two of this series, we will discuss the sorts of things to look for when choosing a lab, in order to provide the greatest probability that a given issue will be resolved successfully.
Derek Snider is a failure analyst at Insight Analytical Labs, where he has worked since 2004. He is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where he is pursuing a Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering.
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Specializing in Electronic Failure Analysis. ISO 9001:2008 Certified!
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