5G is considered to be the next outlet for the semiconductor industry. 5G enables the combination of the Internet of Things and communications, and promotes the rapid implementation of subdivided applications such as intelligent connected vehicles, industrial Internet of things, and smart homes. At the same time as these beautiful dreams come technical challenges, especially the introduction of millimeter wave and large-scale antenna technology to make testing more complicated. In the face of the challenges of emerging technologies, maintaining high R&D investment and continuous innovation is the killer for a technology company to maintain its competitiveness in the industry.
NI (National Instruments), a leader in the test and measurement industry, spends 19% of its revenue on research and development every year, actively engages in cutting-edge research with customers, and continuously launches new products in a timely manner according to market demand. In 2019, when market demand is changing rapidly, NI has launched a series of blockbuster new products: LabVIEW NXG 4.0, updated version of FlexLogger, updated version of SystemLink, new wireless monitoring equipment, and in the semiconductor field, NI has launched mmWave VST for 5G testing. , STS system update, based on the NI software-defined platform, NI is promoting the development of test technology in the entire semiconductor industry with a steady stream of innovation.
Figure 1: NI platforms are software-centric, combined with modular hardware and a vast ecosystem
Emerging technology trends are disrupting traditional test methods, bringing unprecedented complex challenges, which will drive a fundamental shift in the test and measurement industry to automate test and measurement methods, NI software-defined platform solutions, whose “flexibility” is increasingly important .
The future development of millimeter wave is promising, NI launched the test solution – mmWave VST
From the perspective of the overall deployment of 5G, Sub-6GHz should be combined with millimeter waves to maximize the potential of 5G. Sub-6GHz frequency band deployment can achieve wide coverage of 5G, and millimeter wave deployment can provide 5G connection with higher speed and better performance. The commercial deployment of Sub-6GHz is earlier, and the focus in the future will be on the deployment of the millimeter wave band. To seize the “window period” from now to the commercial use of millimeter wave 5G, build a good 5G millimeter wave cooperation ecosystem, ensure the supply of radio frequency devices, and also solve the technical challenges of testing and measurement from the laboratory to mass production. Provide security for products.
To address the test challenges posed by 5G millimeter-wave RFIC transceivers and power amplifiers, NI introduces the millimeter-wave vector signal transceiver (mmWave VST). mmWave VST can cover the 44GHz frequency band, provide 1G real-time bandwidth, and support future test requirements on digital predistortion, or possible test requirements on various carrier aggregation. The number of ports can also be expanded to 8 or 16 through the front-end switch network. For the RF input and RF output required by various beamformers, or the IF input and RF output, such configurations can be supported by the flexible VST configuration to achieve testing.
“In addition to existing PXI-based characterization systems in the lab, the instrument itself can be integrated into the NI Semiconductor Test System (STS) for deployment in volume production lines,” NI said. The tester helps engineers adopting STS to quickly integrate new measurement capabilities, such as 5G, into test cells, improving cost-effectiveness and reducing the risk of delayed time-to-market.”
Figure 2: NI’s blockbuster new mmWave VST for 5G testing
NI spares no effort to participate in all stages from 5G prototype verification to commercial deployment. From launching the “RF Lead User Program” to maintaining close cooperation with industry leaders such as Qorvo, Skyworks, and Samsung, NI has been promoting the development of 5G. .
NI STS Provides Test Assurance for Butterfly Networks and ADI
First introduced in 2014, the NI STS system is a revolutionary solution for semiconductor production test based on the NI platform and ecosystem to help engineers develop smarter test systems. In addition, NI STS provides test systems that can be rapidly deployed to production for semiconductor test environments (lab validation, wafer test, etc.). It is worth mentioning that the core advantage of STS is that it can use a unified platform to achieve deployment from laboratory to mass production, helping users save test costs and improve test efficiency.
The STS system has experienced rapid growth in the past few years. In the Keynote speech on the second day of NIDays Asia, NI pointed out that the second-generation STS semiconductor test system launched by NI has a very large performance improvement in power and can directly Expand DC and digital channels to higher channel counts.
STS is specially developed for semiconductor production line testing, and it also benefits many downstream applications, such as the medical field. Due to the expensive and bulky characteristics of medical imaging equipment, more than two-thirds of the world’s population has no access to medical imaging technology. Butterfly Networks, an American ultrasound equipment company, is committed to promoting the development of portable medical imaging equipment. The company’s first ultrasound imaging product, Butterfly iQ, was approved by the US FDA in September 2017. See ultrasound images for less than $2,000, far less than the price of large ultrasound equipment on the market.
The engineers of Butterfly Networks chose the test plan very carefully when testing Butterfly iQ. In the past, from the verification test to the vector production deployment, it often took about 3-4 weeks to correlate the data. Now they delegate the part to be tested. By Asian manufacturers, all data correlation operations are completed within one day between cross-continental cooperation, and the speed is greatly improved.
According to Pan Jianan, NI Asia-Pacific semiconductor market strategy manager, Butterfly Networks has deployed NI STS systems in laboratories, packaging and testing production lines, and wafer testing. With the advantages of compact design, low power consumption, and high integration of the STS system, it helps Butterfly Networks flexibly cope with the pressure of time-to-market and test costs.
Figure 3: Butterfly Networks deploys the NI STS system in multiple test sessions
As mentioned earlier, the STS system has been adopted by many leading companies in the market. Another veteran user of the STS system is the leading analog chip company ADI. ADI has deployed NI STS systems at scale, spanning from lab to production testing. ADI has strong technical capabilities, coupled with the support of NI’s more intelligent “semiconductor” production and test solutions, ADI’s products can go to market faster.
Jose Roberto Reyes, senior account manager at NI, is very familiar with the process of ADI’s deployment of STS. He pointed out in his speech: “NI STS can significantly reduce test costs and footprint, and STS supports 5G transceiver products very well. Another core The advantage is a high level of reliability with a guaranteed mean time between failures of more than 10,000 hours.”
Figure 4: STS systems are ideal for deployment from lab to production
The increasingly complex chip design brings exponentially increasing test challenges, and the STS system is the best choice to solve these test challenges. NI is committed to providing testing solutions for more Chinese semiconductor and industry chain companies to promote the development of the semiconductor industry.
According to IHS Markit, the total semiconductor market in 2020 will increase by 6% compared to 2019. Judging from the current development of the global semiconductor market, China is currently the world’s largest semiconductor consumer market and the most innovative market, with unlimited development potential. This coincides with NI’s strategy of strengthening deployment in China. NI is also actively cooperating with Chinese third-party manufacturers to better cooperate with local Chinese customers.