1. What was the inspiration for founding Optimal+?
My concept for Optimal+ started while I was working at Intel. I was working in wafer manufacturing and decided to move into test operations. What was most surprising to me was the level of automation, tools and methodologies that were being applied in wafer manufacturing but not in test operations. In this new role, I also started attending many test conferences, such as ITC, and realized that the differences I was seeing was not localized to Intel but applied to the entire semiconductor industry. It was at that point that I realized the opportunity existed for a company that could bring about a new level of innovation in test operations. I founded Optimal+ with the goal of bringing about a paradigm shift in test operations and help customers achieve results that were beyond what was thought to be possible such as implementing adaptive test to significantly reduce test time or leveraging test data to increase yield recovery.
2. What did you take from your experience with Intel that helped you start Optimal+?
My most valuable learnings from Intel was how to find innovative ways to solve complex problems. When we wanted to attack a big, complex problem we would break it down to its smallest components and then find a better way to address those smaller problems, and in the process, develop an entirely new way of solving the larger issue. We have used this approach as we developed our solutions at Optimal+. We looked at the huge challenge that existed for test operations and broke it down into very small, manageable problems and reimagined a complete, end-to-end solution from the ground up that has completely redefined what is possible to achieve in test operations.
3. Optimal+ has had a lot of success since 2005, what are you focusing on for future success?
We have been very fortunate with our success to date, including having the top 5 fabless companies as our customers. It was the perfect confluence of a vision for a better way to do things in manufacturing, a great engineering team to implement that vision, and strong relationships with our customers who worked very closely with us to refine our solution into what it is today.
Looking forward, we see several key opportunities in the years ahead. First, the increasing growth in the amount of data generated in manufacturing test will require companies to rethink how they manage and analyze their data. Our customers realized this early on, largely because of their size and the volume of devices they manufactured. They could see this “big data” trend and the implications it would have on their operations and they took action with us to help them put a solution in place to proactively address the issue. With device complexity increasing and quality becoming paramount, more and more semiconductor companies will need to consider commercial solutions, like Optimal+, to help them with both the aggregation of their global manufacturing data and the analysis of that data.
The second area where we are seeing strong opportunities for growth is in the multi-chip packaging space or 3D-IC. This trend to connect multiple dice together either through interposers or through-silicon vias (TSVs) means that there is no longer a Final Test step in the manufacturing process. So a key gate that was used to detect bad parts is no longer there. Companies will need much more robust processes in place to manage their test escapes. Then there is also the issue of being able to test the quality of all the pieces in the 3D-IC and to help manage overall quality of the device. You don’t want to have a $0.50 die being the root cause for the failure of a $50 multi-chip device.
The third area where we are focusing our efforts is in RMA management to improve quality, and this is also where Big Data comes into play. RMAs are expensive both from a direct financial cost (replacing the faulty device) and as an impact to a company’s brand image (which impacts the desirability of their products and the prices they can charge for them). In most cases, RMA management today is performed ad hoc, without the means to apply rigorous data to the problem. Our Escape Prevention solution enables customers to leverage all of their historical test data, by enabling them to track RMA failures back to the original wafer and actual die that failed. From there, our customers can virtually re-simulate the tests for that part and augment them with additional test to see if it could have been prevented from entering the supply chain in the first place. At the same time, our solution can also inform the customer with how much additional yield kill was needed to catch those problematic parts. Our customers can then “tweak” those detection rules to find the right balance to capture suspected RMA parts with minimal impact on overall yield.
4. Test cost has become a greater percentage of overall production costs – how do Optimal+ tools lower overall costs?
Virtually everything our solutions do for customers is to help them to better manage and lower their manufacturing test cost. Our customers and their supply chain spend millions of capex dollars on manufacturing test equipment and our solutions help them maximize those investments. Our core solution, Global Operations, significantly streamlines the test data collection and analysis process for our customers, shortening their time to actionable information from days or weeks to as little as 10 minutes.
Our ability automatically mine terabytes of data to find yield, quality and throughput issues and then inform the right people of the problem is a huge cost savings, not to mention the additional revenue they gain by having more good parts to sell (higher yield) and more good parts every day (higher throughput).
The output of EVERY customer engagement is to clearly demonstrate exactly how much benefit they will gain with our solution. We have customers who have improved their recovered yield up to 3% and reduce test time up to 30%. Our entire business model is predicated on being able to validate strong ROI for their manufacturing operations. Without it, we would not have a single customer.
5. The term Big Data has been applied to the wealth of data gathered on the test floor. How do Optimal+ tools enable the analysis and understanding of this data and apply to yield and quality improvements?
Even before the buzz about “Big Data” started, we were already very focused on the challenges of managing this constantly growing stream of data. Not only are more ICs being manufactured than ever before (which generates more data), the end consumers of these ICs, the system companies, are demanding much more information to be provided to them than ever before. These system companies want to know the entire test DNA of every device in their end product. There are two specific areas where we have been very proactive in our efforts to enable customers to extract more value from their “big data”. The first area is our investment in our Global Information Highway. This information highway collects parametric test data for every part, at every stage in manufacturing operations from Wafer Sort to Final Test/System-Level Test, and is installed and running in well over 90% of the fabless semiconductor supply chain including all the top foundries and OSATs. It is the only solution that can collect and validate manufacturing test data on a global scale and deliver that information securely to customers anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes.
The second area involves taking proactive steps to ensure that we can continue to provide the data management and rapid analysis that customers expect from our tools. We have partnered with a global provider of Big Data solutions that will ensure we are fully prepared to deal with orders of magnitude more data than our customers are dealing with today and to be able to analyze that data orders of magnitude faster than we are doing it today. The net result is we will be able to provide even greater insight and extract more value from our customers’ “big data”.
6. In 2013 Optimal+ gained several big clients. What sets Optimal+ apart?
I believe that what sets us apart in the industry is our end-to-end solution. There are other companies that provide bits and pieces of what we do, but no one else has a complete solution. So when we install our solution for a benchmark or pilot project, Optimal+ is able to demonstrate very amazing results and findings that more often than not, the customer was not even aware was happening in their operations. We are the only solution that has the ability to support the entire semiconductor manufacturing supply chain from the database and IT infrastructure to the data analysis and reporting. Our support organization has engineers and IT specialists in place around the world at our customers, their foundries and their OSAT providers, making sure that our solution is working smoothly 24/7. In fact, our customers are now running well over 12 billion units per year through our manufacturing test solutions.
The other aspect that sets us apart is our ability to compete against internally-developed solutions, some of which have been around for a decade or more and are very well-understood by their users. In these situations, we always have a very long checklist of capabilities to compare against. Our ability to demonstrate real value against these internal systems has impressed every one of our current customers. They all realized that we were providing benefits and results that were not possible with their existing systems so after they all did their own “make vs. buy” analysis, the decision to go with Optimal+ was simple one to make.
7. Where do you see the semiconductor industry 5 years down the road?
Even though the semiconductor industry is entering a phase of slower revenue growth, the number of devices manufactured every year by the semiconductor industry is still accelerating rapidly which means more opportunities for Optimal+ to help customers manage their Big Data and increase yield, quality and throughput. There are also several other driving factors that will make this a very interesting market for the next five years.
Companies shifting into new market segments. Due to industry maturation, many companies are looking for new market segments to fuel their growth. One example we see is the movement of traditionally, consumer-oriented companies into segments that are undergoing “electrification” such as the automotive market segment, and challenging the incumbent companies there. There is going to be some fierce competition that will put enormous pressure on device cost and quality for all participants.
Consolidation will continue. To achieve greater economies of scale, there will be many more mergers and acquisitions in the next few years as companies buy their way into more revenue and to tap into new market segments. This consolidation will drive a lot of interest for commercial solutions that can support these larger organizations with even more diverse product portfolios and supply chains.
A tighter connection to electronics. As more and more ICs find their way into electronic systems, there will be a greater desire from the electronics companies to have more visibility into their supply chain providers. Semiconductor companies that can provide greater supply chain transparency and higher device quality to their customers will be more likely to keep their socket wins and be in a better position to take future design wins away from their competitors.
The combination of innovative designs, superior product quality and manufacturing supply chain efficiency will define many of the winners in the semiconductor market over the next 5-10 years
8. What has been the biggest benefit Optimal+ has gained through membership with GSA?
In many ways, the goal of the GSA and Optimal+ are very similar. We want to help the entire semiconductor industry to do what they do better, faster and more efficiently. Our solutions are tightening up the links in the semiconductor supply chain by providing a level of visibility that was not possible before, which in turn, enables the semiconductor companies, foundries and OSATS to maximize their results which benefits their collective end customer, the electronics systems companies.
Our relationship with the GSA is helping us deliver this message to the semiconductor industry in the most efficient manner possible and we look forward to continue doing it with them for many years to come.