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What is the Best Way to Get Devices Programmed?

What is the Best Way to Get Devices Programmed?

There are lots of ways to get your data on devices, and there’s not one way that is always better than another. Options that are available today:

• In-House Off-Line Programming
• Program at ICT (in-circuit test)
• Program with In-System Programming (ISP) at Functional Test
• In-Line at Surface-Mount Technology (SMT) stage
• Program at Final Assembly
• Outsource to Programming Center

So which programming method is best in your specific application?

Automotive Programming by Volume of Devices 1The charts in this article are based on feedback from BPM Microsystem’s automotive customers

Just as an example, automotive OEMs us a variety of methods to get the job done. There’s an advantage to programming at the In-Circuit Test (ICT) where all of the components are already soldered on the board. By doing programming and testing in one step, you can combine several steps and save a lot of time. This only works when the programming time is less than a few seconds; if not, you could end up with a huge bottleneck, and in the event of an error you likely have to scrap the whole board or remove and re-solder the bad device and do it all again.

Consider this: the majority of devices programmed for automotive applications are done off-line (50%). Both in-house off-line and outsourcing to a programming house are programmed on the same equipment using off-line automated programming systems, such as BPM’s 4910.

Take a look at what happens when programming times go way up…

This chart factors in data density. When programming times are in excess of the beat rate 2Beat Rate is the total throughput on an SMT line on the SMT line, off-line programming accounts for 80% (in-house off-line + outsourced at programming house). As data density, device complexity and the number of devices in each car continue to increase, the need to reduce the cost of programming will be amplified like never before. In-system, in-circuit and In-line programming become less cost- and time-effective.

With off-line programming, the output can pace with the production line by adding shifts and/or adding machines in combination with strategic outsourcing. In-house off-line programming will continue to grow by providing unmatched efficiencies, producing a lower cost per device, and drastically lowering the lead-times necessary when you out-source. In addition, the software can be updated more frequently, allowing the line to have the latest revision of the source code. And from an intellectual property (IP) perspective, keeping your source code in-house makes your intellectual investment more secure from theft. 3IP Theft: See 2018 Bloomberg article

This is where we can help. BPM’s team can collect the specifications for your project and do a thorough analysis (benchmarks, ROI) and give recommendations. We’ll guide you to ask the right questions. We’re not always the best option, and if that’s the case, we’ll let you know. When you factor quality, ease-of-use, throughput, cost-per-device and long shelf-life (some of our machines are still producing after 10+ years), BPM should be part of the conversation.


Off-line programming is the process of programming the device (either by a manual or automated process) prior to SMT or manual soldering the device to the board.

Surface-mount technology (SMT) is a method for producing electronic circuits in which the components are mounted or placed directly onto the surface of printed circuit boards (PCBs). An electronic device so made is called a surface-mount device (SMD).

In-system programming (ISP), also called in-circuit serial programming (ICSP), is the ability of devices to be programmed while installed in a complete system. The primary advantage of this feature is that it allows manufacturers of electronic devices to integrate programming and testing into a single production phase, and save money, rather than requiring a separate programming stage prior to assembling the system.

CSP Device Programming Strategies for the C-Suite

CSP Device Programming Strategies for the C-Suite

By Srivatsan Mani, former Director of Engineering, BPM Microsystems, Inc.
Originally published in Vol. 18, No. 2 of Global SMT & Packaging Magazine

Good things come in small packages, but small packages can be tricky and costly to handle. The trend for higher density devices and smaller package sizes creates a unique set of challenges for the programming centers and manufacturers programming those devices. A light puff of air sends small parts flying, and misalignment of less than .2mm creates placement issues. This article shares best practices decision makers should consider when purchasing or upgrading production equipment to program small IC devices to maximize speed, quality and cost savings. 

The rise in demand for small device packages

Mobile phones, PDAs, and other mobile products continue to take on new roles such as digital camera, video camera, and TV receiver. These functions require an increased number and greater variety of semiconductors in order to operate, while consumers want their finished products in ever-smaller form factors. Thus, as mobile phone sales have soared, demand for the chip-scale package (CSP) has increased faster than any other IC package type over the past decade or so. The demand for smaller packages with higher densities affects other segments including automotive, industrial, medical device and Internet-of-Things. As the need for complex electrical circuits increases, programmed devices are developed in smaller and smaller packages to free up much-needed space in circuit design. As a result, programming centers and manufacturers are moving towards purchasing or retrofitting existing pick and place machines that are capable of programming such devices with little or no device failures.

Manufacturer challenges handling small devices

Pick and place errors account for the majority of quality issues when programming small devices. Pick and place inaccuracy occurs when the machine is not taught precisely or is inaccurately placing parts due to unaccounted longer x-y axis settling times before a place. Teaching the z-height for a machine manually is nearly impossible for small devices, and for larger devices, operator skill and experience are required. Programming centers and manufacturers incur added costs for labor, machine idle time, lost devices, damaged devices, escapes, and poor yield.

Process control improvements

Automated IC device programmers lift and move devices using a vacuum nozzle attached to a robotic machine to perform repetitive operations. The negative pressure lifts the object and holds it against the nozzle while moving it to the desired location and then setting it into place. However, very small objects, such as small computer or digital chips, including Wafer Level Chip Scale Packaging (WLCSP), small-outline transistors (SOT), and dual-flat no-leads (DFN), may be lifted by the nozzle prior to contact by the nozzle with the object. The vacuum may cause the object to “jump” up to the nozzle.

Operators using process control software teach the robotic machine the height of the object before it begins repetitive production operations. When setting up a job, operators use the process control software to teach the robotic machine the location (x, y, and z) of the input media, output media, peripherals, and programming site and socket. To teach z-height, the operator depresses the nozzle on the handler until it just touches the device. With IC device packages getting smaller, reaching .305mm thick and sizes of 1.7mm x 1.4mm, manually teaching the z-height of the device into the socket is nearly impossible. An operator cannot clearly see deep into the socket to see when the nozzle touches the device. With a flashlight and the assistance of a co-worker, multiple attempts and adjustments occur to determine the z-height.

During a teach cycle, the jump by the device causes the height to be measured incorrectly by the robotic machine that moves the nozzle. Subsequently, during repetitive operations, this incorrect height causes the machine to attempt to pick up the object before making contact. This leads to pick and place errors, dropped parts, cracked parts, and continuity errors. If alignment is off by even .2mm, the teach process must be repeated to avoid cracking or otherwise damaging the device.

Customers report manual teaching small devices takes up to 30 minutes per station. For programming centers with five changeovers per day, this costs 2.5 hours machine idle time plus the costs of labor and lost or damaged devices. Programming centers and manufacturers should consider process control software and equipment with automated teaching capabilities for small parts. For example, BPM Microsystems WhisperTeach™ automates the task for the operator. It completes the task in 4.37 minutes with a standard deviation of 0.5mils, resulting in a savings of up to 25.63 minutes per station or 2.14 hours per day with five changeovers per day.

Accurately taught jobs improve yield by eliminating pick or place errors. Customers have reported yields as poor as 80% on very small parts using manual teach depending on operator skill. Process control software with automated z-height teaching produces a job yield of 99.99% by eliminating any teach related issues.

Production control efficiencies

After completing the job setup and production begins, the accuracy of placement is critical to avoid damaging the device. Manufacturers need to ensure their systems self-calibrate z-height during production to eliminate the need for manual adjustments to compensate for variations in atmospheric pressure, nozzle size, flow rates, filter conditions, and more. This self-calibration by the machine ensures accurate handling throughout the job. In addition to an intelligent process control software and pneumatics systems, look for systems equipped with a high-quality vision system to ensure proper alignment of small parts before placement at each station. When integrated with the production software, vision systems allow the machine to align the device while in motion at high speeds.

For small parts, placement accuracy can be a challenge for systems that are unable to settle their x-y motion fast enough. Look for systems with designs allowing them to operate at maximum throughput without having to slow down the system to handle small parts. Customers achieve faster throughput and better reliability with a well-designed motion system.

3D inspection to increase the quality

■ Precise Laser Micromark Measuring .1mm x .1mm.

Manufacturers looking to reduce scrap monitor each stage of the manufacturing process and take corrective action early. Device programming systems equipped with 3D inspection systems identify damaged parts early in the process. This allows manufacturers to take quick corrective action, resulting in higher quality, minimized reflow and lower overall costs.

3D inspection systems provide full device package validation after programming. High-performance systems support the verification of a variety of device packages including BGA, CSP, QFP, TSOP, SOIC, and J-Lead devices. When looking for an inspection system, features should include measurements for coplanarity, bent lead, pitch, width, diameter, standoff and XY errors.

Inspecting the coplanarity on leaded devices, such as the SOT-23 that measures 2.2mm x 2.7mm, ensures you do not exceed the manufacturer tolerance, which can create long-term reliability concerns of the device. The stress from bent leads may cause cracks in the package, reducing resistance against moisture and consequently present failure in the field due to internal corrosion. 3D inspection systems also identify devices with defective or missing balls on a BGA. By recognizing and removing damaged devices before final placement, manufacturers can prevent quality issues that would otherwise escape. This, in turn, improves production yield and process stability.

Laser marking for traceability

Manufacturers must thoroughly implement traceability control to maintain and confirm quality. Marking a device with a serial number, for example, enables traceability to the programming system, the site and even the socket that programmed the device.

Smaller, thinner devices require fine control of the laser power to avoid damaging the device. Additionally, smaller devices require and higher resolution marking capabilities. When purchasing a laser for your device programming system, look for a hybrid laser system that combines fiber and Nd:YAG laser technologies for precision marketing quality. Micromarking information in a limited space requires ultra-fine marketing capabilities, which is impossible with conventional laser marketing systems. Hybrid laser marking utilizes fine laser setting control, resulting in shallower marks, vivid coloration and a lower thermal impact.

By recognizing and removing damaged devices before final placement, manufacturers can prevent quality issues that would otherwise escape. This, in turn, improves production yield and process stability.

A laser with a power monitor control provides high precision calibration of the laser mark, allowing accurate measure and control of laser energy output. The ability to monitor and control the laser power avoids damage to the device and reduces scrap. In electronics manufacturing, device damage affects quality, reliability, and profitability. A hybrid laser is an optimal solution for small device marking applications where it is necessary to eliminate the effect of heat transfer and control the maximum penetration depth while also providing high-contrast micromarking.


Modern electronic products favor higher density devices in smaller package sizes. Manufacturers and programming centers are purchasing or upgrading existing IC device programming systems to support the demands of programming small devices. A unique set of challenges exist to pick the small device out of tape, place it in the socket, program the device, laser mark the device, inspect the device through 3D inspection, and then place it out to tape. All of this needs to happen quickly, efficiently and with high quality. Decision makers need to consider many requirements when selecting an IC device programming system capable of handling small parts. Ensure the process control software and pneumatic system are qualified for small part handling and automatically teach z-height. Look for a self-calibrating machine with a high-performance vision system capable of aligning devices at high speed, on-the-fly, during production to maximize DPH. Systems with well-designed motion systems achieve faster throughput and higher reliability. Invest in a hybrid laser with power monitoring controls and micromarking capabilities to ensure device traceability. Finally, select a 3D inspection system that performs full device validation after programming, including checks for bent leads and defective balls, for quality and lower overall costs. Following these strategies will ensure your IC device programming system handles small devices with the speed, quality and overall cost savings required for modern electronics manufacturing.

Link to original article

Originally published in the February 2018 edition of Global SMT & Packaging 



Former Director of Engineering

Srivatsan Mani was the Director of Engineering who works with electronics manufacturers and programming centers to innovate solutions that modernize and improve their businesses. With more than 16 years of experience working with device programming systems, process control software, and device programming technology at BPM Microsystems, Inc., Srivatsan knows how to leverage technology to speed up the process while producing higher quality products at lower overall costs. Srivatsan led the development of the award-winning VectorEngine™ site programming technology, patent-pending WhisperTeach™ automated z-height teaching solution, and BPWin™ process control software. Srivatsan holds a degree in electronics and communication engineering and masters in computer systems engineering.

In-System Programming of Micron’s Phase Change Memory with BPM Microsystems’ 2800ISP

In-System Programming of Micron’s Phase Change Memory with BPM Microsystems’ 2800ISP

Case Study


The key advantage of in-system programming is that it allows design engineers and production manufacturers to integrate semiconductor device programming and testing into a single step, eliminating the need to program a device before board placement. Flash memory is often preprogrammed in order to maintain high throughput as traditional in-system programming solutions do not have sufficient speed for typical high-density flash memories. But using BPM Microsystems high-speed 2800ISP in-system programmer to program Micron’s new, revolutionary Phase Change Memory (PCM), a non-volatile memory technology that features increased system-level reliability, byte-alterability and higher programming rates than any other flash device, customers can apply code or firmware just in time in a production environment without slowing the manufacturing beat rate.

Typical Application

Embedded systems typically contain a microcontroller as its processing core, a flash memory chip for firmware, and a managed NAND device for data storage. For this application, BPM Microsystems used a panel of eight PCBs, each containing one Texas Instruments MSP430F2001IPW 8Kbit microprocessor, one Micron NP5Q128A13ESFC0E 128Mbit PCM for application firmware, and one Micron MTFC4GLVEA-0M WT 32Gbit eMMC device for data storage.


Because of the attributes of PCM technology, any preprogrammed data to the device would be lost after reflow, therefore requiring in-system programming equipment such as in-circuit test systems, JTAG or memory interfaces. Most of these in-system programming solutions currently on the market do not have the ability to match the high programming speeds PCM is capable of achieving, thus creating a manufacturing bottleneck.


BPM Microsystems’ semi-automated 2800ISP in-system programming solution has the proven ability to program flash memory devices at the highest reachable speeds using its proprietary Vector Engine Co-Processor® with BitBlast technology. The Vector Engine Co-Processor accelerates waveforms during the programming cycle. The faster speeds are achieved through synchronous operations that eliminate the dead times so the device under test no longer waits for the programmer. The result is programming near the theoretical limits of the silicon design — the faster the device, the faster the device is programmed.

With Vector Engine technology, high-density flash memory devices are able to achieve read/write speeds up to 140Mbits per second. This is significantly faster than traditional in-system programming solutions.


Using BPM Microsystems’ 2800ISP, Micron’s serial PCM was programmed in 24.29 seconds, or at a rate of 5.27Mbits per second. It was verified in 3.33 seconds, or at a rate of 38.44Mbits per second. The signal integrity and speed is demonstrated by the waveforms captured during the in-system programming process. With these high-speed programs and verify times, over half a million boards can be programmed per year with a single fixture across three production shifts. (see Table below). This solves the bottleneck typically seen with traditional test equipment, making the 2800ISP an efficient in-system programming solution for PCM devices.

Device Manufacturer Device Type Program Rate Verify Rate Example File Size Program+Verify Time
Micron PCM 5.27Mbits/s 38.44Mbits/s 128Mbits 27.62s
Micron eMMC 103.69Mbits/s 229Mbits/s 16Gbits 229.54s

“At Micron, we have a profound interest in new, innovative products that have the potential to make a real impact for our customers,” said Jeff Bader, vice president of marketing for Micron’s embedded solutions group.  “With high-speed, in-system programming support on BPM Microsystems’ new 2800ISP, customers can program high-density firmware and data after the nonvolatile device has been placed on the PCB.”

“Our customers who are implementing solutions using Micron NOR, NAND, eMMC or PCM memories see the benefit of having the capability and flexibility that in-system programming tools offer. We are pleased to see that an industry leader like BPM Microsystems can provide a high-quality programming tool and valuable support to our customers.”

This paper was originally delivered at the Flash Memory Summit

About Micron Technology, Inc.

Since its establishment in 1978, Micron Technology, Inc. has become a world leader in semiconductor manufacturing. Its foundation is in providing DRAM, NAND, and NOR flash memory technology along with developing other innovative semiconductor solutions.

Micron Technology, Inc.
8000 S. Federal Way
Boise, ID 83707