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Semiconductor and Electronic Failure Analysis Blog

Welcome to the Semiconductor and Electronics Failure Analysis Blog, and discussion forum for all things related to electrical, integrated circuit (IC) board and electronics failure analysis.  Please subscribed to our feed and feel free to leave a comment or question. Thanks for visiting.

Detecting and isolating a failure in an integrated circuit is no easy matter. There are many techniques used in failure analysis and choosing the right one is an art as well as a science. Sometimes we may need to use many techniques both for better detection as well as independent corroboration so that we can be sure of the results of a particular test. But all tests fall into one of two categories - destructive testing, and non-destructive testing. In this article, we look at why non-destructive testing is so important and what methods fall into this type of test.

Apart from analyzing integrated circuits and Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) for detecting the causes of a failure, we also sometimes need to find out the exact composition and mechanics of "healthy" ones. This is because such electronic components are subject to a number of regulations before being allowed into the marketplace including hazardous substance regulations. Depending on where the chips are going to be shipped to, these may vary greatly. For example, the EU has Directive 2002/95/EC dealing with the restriction of six types of substances which can be present in electronic components placed on the market. In the United States, there are fewer such restrictions and California is the only state so far which has them in place, and they are in turn based on the same EU directive. In this article, we take a look at some specific restrictions as well as the methods we use to determine whether or not the chips are compliant.

Integrated circuits function as discrete units and a final assembly consists of many different types of ICs placed together. Each can be sourced separately and manufactured elsewhere. This is one of the reasons, they need to be packaged into individual segments with all the IC components sitting safely inside. They're also very delicate and must be protected which is another reason why they are sealed off from the outside world. Failure analysis of such ICs needs physical access to packaged components which isn't possible as long as they're inside their protective casing. Therefore, one of the first steps while performing the actual analysis is to extricate the circuits of interest from their outer covering. This procedure is called Integrated Circuit Decapsulation.

The electronic systems we study in academia consist of basic components such as transistors, resistors, capacitors etc. These same components are also used in the complicated Integrated Circuits (ICs) which make up the internals of the computer on which you're reading this article. The difference lies in the fact that they're small - very small. So tiny in fact, that the term microelectronics is applied to them. The procedure for finding out how they malfunction is called microelectronics failure analysis. Finding out where a malfunction has occurred is difficult enough when examining a normal circuit. But when analyzing a microchip, the complexity magnifies a thousandfold. Failure analysis of such systems requires a precise understanding of the chip along with an intimate knowledge of the manufacturing process and experience in the field.

When a complex electronic component malfunctions, it's important to understand what exactly has gone wrong and more importantly, why. The entire branch of quality control revolves around reducing error rates in manufacturing. Faulty chips not only lose money directly but can also lead to unforeseen lawsuits. In order to get a clear idea of the problem, misbehaving components are sent for inspection to failure analysis labs. A failure analysis laboratory is a place which is dedicated to finding out why certain chips are defective. Over the years, the field of forensic engineering has evolved to a point where there is a systematic way of drilling down to the root of the problem. In this article, we look at the features of IC failure analysis labs and what services they provide.

Complex electronic devices have relied on integrated circuits (ICs) on Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) for quite a while now. Though advances happen rapidly in electronic failure analysis,  the fundamentals remain the same. Pressure to pack more circuitry into a smaller area has increased the density of these boards and along with such designs, come many different errors. Greater complexity ensures that new types of flaws will emerge and the small size of the chips makes them challenging to detect. Printed Circuit Board Failure Analysis deals with the detection of these errors. Over the years, many techniques have either emerged or been modified to detect flaws with divergent degrees of details and perspectives. In this article, we take a brief look at some of the flaws in PCBs as well as the techniques for detecting them.

Of all the various failure analysis techniques, microthermography is perhaps the most important. If we could do away with all procedures and retain just one which can tell us the most about a chip, we'd like to see the thermal output and which areas are misbehaving. Because of this, there is more than one technique to get the "heat map" of a chip and last week we saw how liquid crystals can be used for this purpose. But liquid crystals suffer from some major flaws and recently, failure analysis using fluorescent microthermal imaging (FMI) is coming to the fore as a compliment. In this article, we see why FMI is important, how it works, and how it's used.

Integrated circuits are getting more complicated all the time, necessitating a need for a wide variety of analysis techniques to figure out what's wrong. When so many electronic components are crammed together, the chances of one of them failing is very high. Detecting them is anything but trivial given the fact that the high density makes it challenging to isolate the fault. And this is where failure analysis using liquid crystal imaging comes into play. Misbehaving components create what we call "hot spots" on the chip. As the name implies, they exhibit a higher temperature than the surrounding areas. It's not easy to detect them since the temperature difference is too low to measure using conventional means. In this article, we see how liquid crystals are used to do the job.

One of the basic requirements of electronic failure analysis is the ability to actually view a detailed close up of the Integrated Circuit (IC) at the point which needs to be tested. Though techniques such as acoustic microscopy are invaluable, they must be used in conjunction with a first class real life image. Such a combination of techniques is common in the failure analysis of ICs. Failure analysis using Scanning Electron Microscopy is the technique that is used for obtaining this detailed image. In this article, we look at why and how electron microscopy services are able to generate such intense representations.

There are many dimensions to analyzing semiconductors and integrated circuits. Last week we looked at how one could peer into fine internal structures using high-resolution x-ray analysis. Today we look at how to find tiny defects in the material based on failure analysis using optical emission spectroscopy. There are a whole bunch of techniques that fall under the bracket of emission spectroscopy, but all of them rely on one fundamental principle. Namely, that when atoms are excited, they release either photons or electrons (via the Auger effect) which are characteristic of their unique composition. An analysis of these emissions gives us valuable data regarding what sort of defects may be present.

Often, it is necessary to determine the integrity of the materials which make up an integrated circuit. This is a fundamentally different type of test as compared to seeing the internal structure or trying to understand its makeup using emission spectroscopic techniques. There are many different failure mechanisms that can be tested for and failure analysis using Scanning Acoustic Microscopy is a common way of finding structural defects. In this article, we learn more about using scanning acoustic microscopy for electronics failure analysis, how it works, and what data we can obtain by using it.

The trend in integrated circuit (IC) manufacturing is towards smaller and smaller components, often resulting in a much higher density and complexity. Just a minor variation in important variables can cause electronic components to malfunction in strange ways. As all electronics manufacturers know, today's complex electronic components misfire frequently and finding out what went wrong isn't easy. Failure analysis using high-resolution x-ray techniques can help electrical engineers discover and understand where the electronic failure lies. In this article, we see why x-rays are so useful for electronic failure analysis work.

Failure analysis using decapsulation occupies a prominent position among failure analysis techniques for integrated circuits. However, a failure analysis engineer must use caution in using decapsulation as it will render the package useless and other techniques useless as well. In that sense, failure analysis using decapsulation belongs after microscopy or radiography so that the testers know which decapsulation technique to use. Decapsulation refers to taking an integrated circuit apart to examine the components. Taking the package apart may destroy parts of the package that require inspection. So, failure analysis using decapsulation means already knowing what to examine. Decapsulation will use any of several means to open the package. These range from simply prying the substrates apart to laser or jet etching. Some IC decapsulation processes call for subjecting the package to heat and then grinding the components apart. This technique will destroy bond wires but preserve the die, whereas the etching processes (laser etching, manual etching or jet etching) will usually destroy the die. Failure analysis using decapsulation by means of manual etching subjects the package to corrosive acids to remove the plastic material that covers the die. Various acids may be used in this process and sometimes the acid…

The failure of any process requires immediate analysis and remediation, but integrated circuit failure analysis is especially granular and exacting. When an integrated circuit fails to achieve its intended function (functional failure) or to remain within specifications for measurable characteristics (parametric failure), a failure analysis engineer must subject the device to integrated circuit failure analysis, seeking to identify the cause of the failure. Integrated circuit testing and inspection call for highly trained personnel to perform very specific tasks to precise specifications. For example, complete integrated circuit failure analysis requires that an individual integrated circuit be subjected to multiple procedures to create a thorough and complete data set from which to draw actionable conclusions. Leaving steps out of the process may render the entire effort meaningless.  

  Are you searching for the services of a semiconductor failure analysis lab for help with electronics failure analysis and root cause analysis? Insight Analytical Labs (IAL) is a full-service electronics failure analysis lab.  Call us to speak with a semiconductor failure analysis expert in our lab at (719) 570-9549. Semiconductor Failure Analysis - Enhancing Reliability Semiconductor failure analysis occupies a prominent position among high tech fabricators. Even the most sophisticated ICs fail, and when they do, it’s critical that engineers and fabricators discover the root causes of the failure, so as to avoid the same issues in subsequent designs. Semiconductor analysis can, therefore, enhance semiconductor reliability by addressing observed shortcomings in design and fabrication and then avoiding them in the future. Semiconductor failure analysis initially involves pinpointing the nature of the failure. Semiconductor failures can be broadly grouped into two categories: functional failures and parametric failures. A functional failure means the device failed in its intended function, while parametric failures mean the device’s function lies outside the specifications for a measurable characteristic.  

In the event of failure, printed circuit board (PCB) failure analysis seeks to identify the causal factors with enough precision to enable remediation of the fault. This requires systematic testing of the PCB to eliminate individual components as causal factors for the failure. The process of PCB failure analysis is as important as the integrity of the steps; skipping a step in the progression of testing and analysis can contaminate the results and prevent failure analysis engineers from drawing actionable conclusions. Further, complicating PCB failure analysis is the spiraling complexity of today’s PCBs. From through-hole to surface mount involving 1-mil tolerances, from double-sided boards to those with as many as 14 layers, PCBs have evolved dramatically in a relatively short time. Additionally, PCBs now routinely include such exotic design elements as COB (chip on board), flip chips and Ball Grid Arrays.

Advances in the electronics industry are always increasing and failure analysis is as important now as it has ever been. It is especially critical in the semiconductor industry where product line problems must be resolved rapidly and effectively. Failure analysis is further complicated as semiconductors are continually being scaled down and materials are being changed, thereby making a quality failure analysis more difficult.

Electronic failure analysis services are an often undervalued tool in the semiconductor and electronics industries. Manufacturers are beginning to understand that quality and reputation are linked, in much the same way that profit and failure analysis are connected. In an area such as integrated circuit (IC) boards and semiconductors, a timely and accurate failure analysis can be the difference between success and failure for a company’s product line. It appears that electronic failure analysis tools and techniques are becoming nearly as sophisticated as the materials and components they are analyzing.

With a variety of test equipment pieces available at their fingertips, semiconductor failure analysis services may very well be considered modern day, high-tech “surgeons.” In the semiconductor industry, product lines are a manufacturer’s lifeblood. When a product line is “frozen” for a product defect, semiconductor failure analysis becomes the necessary problem-solving tool to “unfreeze” the line. A failure analysis performed accurately and rapidly ultimately saves a manufacturer time, money, and a precious thing known as reputation.

So you've taken your circuit board dreams and created the next killer black box technology that everyone's going to be talking about soon. However, the only problem is that things are still a bit off when it comes to making it work the same way each time. While forcefully striking your masterpiece may be a great way to jog its memory about what it's supposed to be doing, if you're not sure your investors or customers will want to rely on inconsistent performance, you need electronic failure analysis with a fast turnaround.

Electrical failure analysis is the key to reducing liability and associated costs to your electronics business. In essence, electronic failure analysis is high-tech damage control and at the end of the day, your customers will thank you. However, if left unchecked, the slightest change in engineering, materials, and/or processes can cause ripple effects throughout your supply chain, setting a company back weeks in engineering time and thousands of dollars in materials and lost revenue.


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