Time to break away from "big iron"? (continued)
Test Measurement World Staff- October 1, 2008
President and CEO
In 2003, John VanNewkirk engineered the acquisition of CheckSum by an investor group, Teton Industries. Earlier, he led a successful turnaround of a steel service center in southern China for Van Shung Chong Holdings (VSC), a public company in Hong Kong. Prior to joining VSC, VanNewkirk served as a management consultant with Bain & Co. in Hong Kong and San Francisco. During his years at Bain, he developed and implemented growth strategies for Fortune 500 companies. VanNewkirk holds a BS degree from Brown University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Contributing editor Larry Maloney conducted a phone interview with VanNewkirk on new technologies for board test and onboard programming.
Read the first part of this interview.
Q: So, you see an increasing demand for onboard programming?
A: Absolutely. This is very much a growing market. The traditional solution has been programming the chips at a programming house outside of the factory or using chip programming off-line inside the factory. But most engineers would prefer to program chips on the board because they don’t have to keep track of so many inventories. They can also add serial numbers and other unique data, which is very important in industries that need tracking systems, such as automotive and medical.
So programming online clearly is a better solution—if it is fast enough. And the traditional technique of programming one chip at a time has really fallen short in such applications as multipanel production. But with MultiWriter, you are programming in parallel, giving you the speed you need.
Q: Can customers buy this MultiWriter technology without purchasing a CheckSum ICT platform?
A: Initially, the answer to that question was “no.” And certainly there are clear advantages to integrating MultiWriter with our Analyst testers, such as eliminating expensive channel cards required by traditional in-circuit tests. About half of the CheckSum testers installed today also use MultiWriter. A typical application is Phillips Lighting, which manufactures multipanel boards in very high volume. In medical, another of our customers not only needs to program the chip but also program in 10 variables for tracking purposes.
However, there is such a demand for this parallel programming technology among companies with traditional ICT (in-circuit test) systems that we will launch by the end of the year a stand-alone ISP programming system called MultiWriter pps. This will help answer a big need in such industries as disk-drive manufacturing, which now spends more time programming chips onboard than it does in testing them.
Q: Within Brüel & Kjær's target markets, how big is the building acoustics area, versus sound and vibration applications in industrial markets like automotive and aerospace?
A: The building acoustics segment is smaller, but it is still a very important one to us and our customers. Acoustics measurements are invaluable when designing or examining noise control issues in the building environment. Brüel & Kjær has a suite of solutions for checking conformance to building regulations and pinpointing weak spots in sound insulation. Our Type 2250 and 2270 handheld instruments are typically the preferred choice for measurement needs in this application, and our Website features a video that demonstrates how easy it is to use these devices for analyzing building acoustics.
Q: What’s the target market for MultiWriter pps?
A: There are two primary user segments. One is the just-in-time factory environment, such as a low- to medium-volume manufacturer that needs to personalize the device just before shipping it out. The other big market consists of companies that love their big-iron testers or don’t use ICT at all. For example, two automotive companies in France are locked into their existing ICT platform but really want MultiWriter.
Q: Moving to hardware issues, what distinguishes your line of Analyst testers from conventional ICT systems?
A: The primary difference in our line of testers is a much simpler architecture. We’ve built the system over the last 20 years to be very easy to use and support. Physically, our systems do not have the high-speed digital interface that is required in digital vector testing, a feature that isn’t even utilized today on most expensive ICT platforms. So, we’ve been able to reduce cost and complexity by eliminating that relic of the mid-90’s fault spectrum.
Certainly, we still do digital test, including vectorless test and boundary scan; we’re just not overdriving the ICs. In general, we started out serving customers that simply could not afford a big-iron tester. And that mindset continues to drive the thinking of our R&D engineers and software specialists.
Q: To what extent have your customers integrated boundary-scan hardware and software with your test platforms?
A: Boundary scan is still more talked about than used in production test. Probably about half of the boundary-scan applications are in design and debug environments.
Even so, we are beginning to see more boundary scan on the production floor. And we certainly are encouraging our customers to use boundary scan to get higher digital test coverage, given the problems with lack of access that we’ve already discussed. We decided to work with all four of the major boundary-scan providers.
Some industries, such as automotive, have been slow to adopt boundary scan, but others, such as medical and telecom, are embracing the technique to ensure better test coverage.
Q: As you look at the whole board-test environment, are flexibility and more open systems becoming a clear trend?
A: I believe so. Most companies need to make tradeoffs. They have to mix and match various technologies to get the test coverage they need. You need a platform that on one project allows you to do basic ICT and part programming—and on the next in-circuit and boundary scan, plus customized tests. You really don’t know what you are going to need on that next project, so the more flexible your platform, the better off you are. So, buy a system that solves your problems and saves money. Pure ICT platforms are not the big dogs they used to be.
Q: What kind of reception is CheckSum getting to its lower-cost solutions in the fast-growing Asia markets?
A: In that market, you’ll find more use of lower-cost test technologies than anywhere else. For example, the entire personal computer industry has gone to lower-cost ICT. Even so, some companies still cling to the older technologies because they believe they have a cost advantage on the labor side and don’t want to rock the boat. However, in many emerging markets, such as Vietnam, you simply don’t have a cadre of engineers with experience on these big-iron testers. If you are starting from scratch, why not use a simple, easy-to-use system?
Q: How have customers responded to your Analyst ems+ft platform, which combines in-circuit and functional test?
A: It has received a great response. This product is the embodiment of our idea to help customers gain increased test coverage through a very open platform. In-circuit testers by and large are not great functional test platforms. That’s because functional test is getting to be more complex as well as specific to the needs of certain applications, such as avionics, medical, and RF. So, traditional in-circuit testers typically do only basic functional tests, such as frequency and voltage checks.
The Analyst ems+ft enhances the low-cost advantages of our Analyst ems platform with an integrated stimulus, measurement, and switching capability. The result is built-in analog functional test greater than that found on in-circuit testers priced much higher.
We also keep adding new technologies to our platform. In June, we introduced a mechanical press-down fixturing unit called the 12KN press, which can handle up to 5200 nodes. It can also perform dual-level probing at low cost, which lets you do in-circuit test as well as functional test and boundary scan.
In contrast, dual-level probing on traditional ICT platforms will cost you an additional $5000 to $7000 in fixturing costs. We’ve incorporated dual-probing into our tester in a very open software environment that allows customer to easily integrate third-party functional-test instruments. This gives customers maximum flexibility so that they can craft a test strategy that really fits the needs of their boards.
Q: Where is CheckSum’s technology headed in the future?
A: First of all, we’ll continue to broaden this flexible, open-platform test strategy. And a good example of that is the 12KN platform, which is just being released. Early in 2009, we will also have our next generation set of electronics, which will revolve around test speed for our very-high-volume customers. A third area is programming, reflected in the MultiWriter technology and the new stand-alone pps system. There are some exciting things going on. We believe electronic test has a lot of room for growth, and we will continue to invest in new technology.
Read the first part of this interview.