While an analyst is usually called on to ferret out defects on an integrated circuit or printed circuit board, the same attention to detail is necessary to detect counterfeit devices. Given that there is an ever-growing “grey market” for semiconductors, support services like counterfeit inspection can provide immense value and peace of mind to a supplier or manufacturer; the tools and techniques available to a failure analyst can be readily used to provide these services. The visual inspection that is so crucial to the first steps of an FA can often detect signs of package polishing or remarking, indicating that a device may be recycled or, indeed, a completely different part than what it claims. X-ray inspection can determine whether the electrical connections inside a device appear correct, based on prior knowledge of the part and on any datasheets or other specifications an analyst might have. Even the acoustic microscope can be brought to bear on a suspect part, as the ultrasonic waves are sensitive enough to detect anomalies in the packaging of the device that may cast doubt on its authenticity.
Similarly, the toolbox of the failure analyst can also be used to help characterize semiconductors in support of a reliability study. Many manufacturers subject small batches of their parts to various environmental stresses – thermal changes, moisture, mechanical shock or vibration – in order to characterize their processes and gather data about the projected lifespan of a device. These stresses can induce defects that a failure analyst can detect with the multitude of tools available to them – for example, package cracking caused by thermal shock or mechanical torsion of a device can be detected with a thorough visual inspection, or with the acoustic microscope. Similarly, decapsulation of a device may reveal issues like poor wirebonding that are exacerbated by external stress.
While the tools in a failure analyst’s repertoire are often precisely targeted, many of them can be used to provide other support services for the semiconductor industry. Most important, however, is the diversity and depth of experience found in a typical FA lab that allows these tools to be applied effectively to meet any need a customer may have, not just FA requests.