MOUNTAIN VIEW, USA: The North American semiconductor automatic test equipment (ATE) markets are experiencing sustained growth, driven by the demand from the consumer electronics industry, which is witnessing a solid sales upswing of high-end cell phones.
However, the economic slowdown has profoundly influenced market dynamics. In the last couple of years, there was an oversupply of memory devices in North America. This led to reduced demand for memory ATE, thereby restraining overall market growth significantly during 2008.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan's North American Semiconductor Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) Markets, finds that the market earned revenues of over $385.1 million in 2008 and estimates this to reach $320.8 million in 2013.
"Under these circumstances, time-to-market is critical, and testing several components simultaneously can greatly optimize cost efficiency," says Frost & Sullivan Industry Manager Sujan Sami. "Vendors in this domain are developing key test solutions that can test both flash and memory with the help of a single ATE."
The trend of parallel testing is poised to multiply market prospects. Modular instruments with an open architecture are energizing prospects for the ATE market.
Presently, there is a huge discrepancy between the standards followed by chip manufacturers and ATE vendors. Although the key standards that can narrow this gap are not yet developed, several organizations such as the Collaborative Alliance for Semiconductor Test (CAST), STC, and Semiconductor Test Interface eXtensions (STIX) are working to resolve this issue. The success of these organizations will enable positive market momentum in the future. NAND memory is an area where growth is expected in the North American semiconductor ATE markets.
The demand for DDR3 will help the ATE market witness more innovation and thereby help produce more test solutions in the short term and mid term. Dynamic random access memory (DRAM) is a complex technology, challenging test vendors to roll out sophisticated test solutions to test these DRAM devices. DRAM complexity is forcing test vendors to shift to NAND, as it is simple, particularly at DDR1 range. This has reduced the growth of DRAM testers.
Consolidation is on the rise in the market and companies are constantly improving their market share. Increasing consolidation has provided more opportunities for new solutions to be developed, and it benefits customers as the same vendor can provide a variety of test solutions.
With competition intensifying, vendors in the ATE market are finding the task of retaining customers an uphill task. Training is an essential criterion to impart knowledge to end users, thereby winning customer loyalty. Participants in this space have to go the extra mile to satisfy end-user requirements.
"End users, at present, want cost efficient, durable testers that adapt to changing technologies," says Sami. "As chip complexity escalates, test vendors face difficulties in developing test solutions that can last long without any hardware upgradation."
The wide range of circuit elements increases the overall cost of SoC testers and makes it difficult for vendors to reduce the price of the testers, while providing additional benefits as well as future-proofing solutions.
The key criterion is to understand the synergy between design and testing and produce synchronized ATE that go hand-in-hand with semiconductor equipment. Test vendors must remain focused on the technology, ATE's low failure rates, and faster time-to-market to gain the competitive edge.