The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted major impacts on manufacturing operations worldwide including in the semiconductor industry. The virus has left millions of people confined to their homes, resulting in a massive shift to virtual work and online engagement. In Singapore, where AEM is headquartered, our management team took proactive measures to protect our workers by implementing best practices ahead of the Singapore Circuit Breakers.
AEM is globally deemed an essential service, requiring us to maintain operations and minimize impact to our customers. Business continuity plans that include work-from-home and safe-distancing guidelines are in place. As of the time of this writing, we are very fortunate that all of our employees are safe and that we’ve seen only minimal impacts to our customer commitments. AEM has confined this impact by spreading operational risks across our facilities in Asia, Europe, the U.S. and divisions in Singapore, Malaysia, China, North America, Central America, Finland, France and Vietnam. All told, these facilities employ more than 550 people (Figure 1).
Figure 1 – AEM Global Presence
As a global leader, AEM offers application-specific intelligent system-level test and handling solutions for semiconductor and electronics companies that serve the advanced computing, 5G communications and artificial intelligence (AI) markets.
Leveraging our decade of experience, the latest AMPS solutions provide asynchronous, modular, massively parallel and smart system-level testing to meet the new test challenges of complex ICs. The modularity and scalability of these systems enables customers to scale their existing engineering device validation solutions into high-volume, massively parallel production solutions that increase faults coverage, reduces time to market, and decreases cost of test and ownership (Figure 2).
Figure 2 – AMPS System-Level Test Solution
In meeting 5G infrastructure test needs, AEM developed a field-deployable fiber optics tester. Called WideOptix SR4, the system was initially developed in collaboration with a world leader to support the 5G fiber infrastructure deployment in China and has now been adopted for some Ethernet standards testing. With our WideOptix SR4 development, we cultivated Silicon Photonics (SiPh) testing expertise that complements our AMPS system-level test capability. As part of our business continuation and risk diversifications plan, we had also set up factories in Penang (5,200m2) and Suzhou (3,600m2). Penang’s rising influence in the Southeast Asia semiconductor industry has prompted AMM (AEM Malaysia) to expand its scope to include value-added services with a Center of SSD Excellence and Center of Photonic Excellence.
ASZ (AEM Suzhou) will continue to focus on the domestic market in China for further expansion and penetration with products ranging from cost-sensitive testers to state-of-the-art test measurement instruments. In Europe, AEM is focused on wafer-level test and cost-effective ATE test solutions. Finland-based AFORE specializes in MEMS and application-specific wafer testing with the ability to add physical stimulus. The company's state-of-the-art instruments enable the testing of devices such as diced IMU’s (Inertia and Motion Units) in continuous rotation on a wafer mounting ring. Our process increased test throughput by 3X compared to the traditional pick-and-place methods (Figure 3).
Figure 3 – Wafer-Level Test Throughput Advantage
A specialist in application-specific wafer handling, AFORE developed its latest design to support quantum computing in collaboration with its partner BLUE FORS. The company’s probing equipment features a handling solution with temperature tolerances to 2K (-270’C) to support cryogenic testing (Figure 4).
Figure 4 – Cryogenic Quantum Computing Probing Solution
AFORE also gained critical insights into creating total darkness, enabling us to further explore opportunities for dark matter testing. AFORE is currently in talks with a member of the LUX Photonics Consortium funded by the National Research Foundation (Singapore) to provide a dark body testing environment and handling for its IR detectors.
In Europe, our acquisition of Mu-TEST in France helps diversify our product and service offerings while spreading our business continuity risks. Mu-TEST enjoys collective test-development experience of more than 320 man-years thanks to various ATE suppliers including Schlumberger and Credence. To help combat rising costs of traditional ATE, Mu-TEST developed cost-effective solutions using FPGA-based instruments supported by a full suite of test development, debug and production test software with links to EDA and standard interfaces. This provides Mu-TEST an agile platform that can be easily re-configured for different customer needs.
This Mu-Test acquisition expands AEM’s system-level testing capability to include Functional Test, allowing BIST, SCAN, JTAG to test structural failures and perform other application-level test that interface directly with the DUT using the EVM (Electronics Validation) boards to increase fault coverage within the same test environment. Mu-TEST has also enabled AEM to form the recent partnership with UTAC to develop a cost-effective CIS test solution that addresses UTAC’s test needs and complements its CIS advanced packaging solutions. Our U.S. headquarters based in Chandler, Arizona has expanded its capabilities to provide application engineering.
In summary, AEM has been expanding its global footprint while managing risk and has been fortunate to be positioned to manage the recent COVID-19 excursions. While each geographical location specializes in core technologies, all sites have access to one another’s manufacturing facilities in times of need and a pool of IP available to address new opportunities. We believe this risk diversification positions us well to serve the needs and interests of our customers worldwide.
Lo Wee Tick is Director, Business Development, and Stuart Pearce is Senior Director, Field Marketing, at AEM Holdings Ltd.