The Wireless Semiconductor Shortage and How LitePoint’s Test Solutions Can Help Mitigate its Impact
By Joseph SfeirApril 14, 2021
For the coming months, one of the main challenges that will affect all industries – and the world economy – is the semiconductor shortage. Among the various collateral effects of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a surge in demand for electronic components driven by the new “smart working” routine, which increases the need for smartphones, PCs and other electronic devices. This has resulted in a semiconductor shortage that has impacted a variety of business segments.
Even though technology has made the semiconductor supply chain more efficient, chip manufacturing is still very risky. Semiconductor fabs cost billions of dollars. Once built, the chip making technology is expensive and requires complex cooperation. Inventory-less operations is making the whole ecosystem more vulnerable to demand shocks leading to the current semiconductor shortage. On top of this, for cost reasons, companies were less inclined to consider the so-called “black swan” event brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t ramp up spending and investment due to the rare nature of this global health event.
These arguments also hold for the wireless value chain, as most of the devices used for smart working require a wireless connection, which is also a fundamental technology for automotive, healthcare, networking, and many other business sectors.
The Impact of Lost Sales on the Wireless Supply Chain
When an event like this semiconductor shortage happens, one of the major concerns of semiconductor firms is loss of sales opportunities. The inability to supply the market with the requested products in time creates not only the loss of specific sales opportunities, but also risks customers switching to a competitor. This can lead to an increase in cost of the inventory and a decrease of the EBITDA with a consequential effect on the stock market value of a company.
Some wireless systems companies do have the economic and political power to secure enough chipsets to maintain their production flow, but others like those in the automotive segment, often have a just-in-time supply business model leaving them vulnerable. Other internet of things (IoT) companies have limited volumes, which makes them both vulnerable to the semiconductor shortage, and very dependent on their supplier.
History shows us that various emergency management and crisis response solutions can be adopted to face a challenge like this, and some have been successfully implemented for prior shortage situations. For example, in the aftermath of the Fukushima earthquake disaster, Intel was able to execute long held crisis response programs and work with its customer and supply partners to minimize the shortage of microcontrollers (MCUs) to its automotive customers.
How LitePoint Can Help Customers During Challenging Product Launches
When it comes to crises like the current semiconductor shortage, collaboration and partnership are key to overcome the unexpected challenge. LitePoint can help its customers
- Reduce time to market
- Reduce cost of test by increasing max throughput
- Reduce risk of instrument supply and cost of ownership
Let’s take a closer look at each of the ways that LitePoint can help, and what test engineers should be looking for when selecting a partner for test and measurement.
Reduce Time to Market
Pre-validated test software. When the product launch window is lost, it becomes key to recover as quickly as possible. LitePoint’s specific business model combines test hardware and a turnkey software solution. IQfact+ software is chipset-specific wireless test software, that enables thorough design verification and rapid volume manufacturing with minimal engineering effort. Test automation development is often a lengthy process, requiring intimate knowledge of the tester and the device under test (DUT) control and the ability to write a test.
Simple hardware set up.On the factory floor, it is important that test systems are designed to do one thing: reliably test wireless devices at the highest possible throughput. Time spent calibrating and troubleshooting is time spent not delivering product. If a test engineer is dealing with reconfiguration and calibration of delicate test system cards and complex interconnections, this is an indication that the test system is not designed for manufacturing. For ease of setup, LitePoint offers simple point-to-point connections between the tester and the DUT along with calibration and testing as a system—they are not delivered as components with “some assembly required.”
Strong localized support. Even a small issue can cause a big slow down. LitePoint has a local support team. Test engineers need expert service from people that truly understand wireless test in a manufacturing environment. Look for a partner who believes that if there is a problem, it’s their problem too.
Deep involvement in the wireless ecosystem. When a new technology gets traction, it is mandatory for test and measurement companies to be ready with a product that can support customers in the early phase of research and development. Strong relationships with chipset makers and involvement in standardization groups are key activities that ensure LitePoint can supply its customers with the latest technologies and innovation.
For example, LitePoint was the first company to introduce an ultra-wideband (UWB) tester in the consumer and automotive markets, featuring innovative time of flight (ToF) and angle of arrival (AoA) testing technologies. LitePoint was also an early member of the FiRa Consortium, a member-driven organization focused on the secure fine-ranging and positioning capabilities of UWB devices.
Reduce Cost of Test by Increasing Max Throughput
Exclusive Packet Engine Technology Drives Throughput. LitePoint’s patented Packet Engine™ technology is the heart of our connectivity test solutions. Totally unique in the test industry, the Packet Engine enables test methodologies that are wireless standard specific, to extract the maximum throughput from the tester. With powerful embedded data processing capabilities, LitePoint test systems analyze and log test results quickly, in the background, allowing the tester to run at maximum speed. With the use of the newest Intel processors and platforms, LitePoint systems readily evolve to provide lightning-fast results processing.
One System Tests Multiple Standards—Simultaneously. LitePoint’s single-box solutions enable the testing of multiple standards with a single insertion. Not sequentially, but concurrently. Concurrency alone cuts test times by more than 50 percent, and when time saved on additional device insertions and on multiple device reboots is also included, the test time reduction is even higher.
Multi-DUT Solutions Test Multiple Devices in Parallel. With LitePoint, it is possible to test between four and 16 devices in little more than the time it would take to test one. Rather than simply quadrupling hardware, LitePoint implements its hardware in ways that eliminate issues with crosstalk between channels, reduces power consumption, and optimizes tester cost.
Decrease Risk of Instrument Supply and Cost of Ownership
LitePoint is part of the Teradyne group, a conglomerate of companies involved in the testing value chain from the IC level up to system test, robots and automation. LitePoint is geographically present in all relevant countries with local offices, and often a mother company or sister company is already a supplier of many major electronic IC makers, OEMs, ODMs and contract manufacturers. In many cases this can facilitate the purchasing department’s processes for buying an instrument. For example, in the automotive industry where the “just in time supply” and a reduced number of suppliers is the usual. Teradyne and LitePoint can collaborate for technically efficient test systems. For example, the Teradyne J750 ATE test system, combined with LitePoint instrumentation, delivers a cost-effective, complete ATE production test solution covering MCUs and global wireless connectivity standards.
Moreover, testing with complementary devices from the IC level up to the final assembled product will create a continuity in the results that can be beneficial to maintain the control of the quality production flow.
Cost of purchasing an instrument is only one dimension of the total cost of ownership, the other one is the cost of operation. LitePoint’s efficient operating cost can be modeled to include many key parameters including calibration, repair, downtime, technology scalability and training.
At LitePoint, we work to achieve a very competitive lead time and calibration cycle, each piece of equipment undertakes an extensive product qualification process (PQP) with its own specific data report. LitePoint designs robust equipment that can perform with minimal temperature variation and in difficult environments like manufacturing plants.
LitePoint’s software structure is modular so test engineers can purchase the technology needed and scale it later using the same instrument. Finally, LitePoint testers are designed to be easy to use, and the company has a large application team that can provide support to help test engineering teams quickly learn how to use the instrument, integrate it into any pre-existing setups and rapidly ramp up the manufacturing line.
The semiconductor shortage will have an impact in the electronic ecosystem. Ensuring business continuity is a must and this can be achieved by tightening the collaboration between the supplier and customers. LitePoint’s innovative business model, advanced testers and collaboration with Teradyne offers a variety of solutions to decrease production risk and the time to market and help mitigate the impact of the semiconductor shortage.
 A Quake Breaks a Supply Chain
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