Some solutions are more “universal” than others
There are quite a few device programming solutions that describe themselves as “universal.” You would think everyone is using the term “universal” the same way. Think again.
“Universal” as an adjective, means: “of, affecting, or done by all people or things in the world or in a particular group; applicable to all cases,” (Definitions from Oxford Languages). What does it mean to be “universal?” First, let’s go back to the first “universal” programmer…
BPM 1200, the First Universal Programmer
In the early 1990s, there was no such thing as a universal device programmer. If you wanted to program a different family of devices (for instance, an EPROM and a TSOP), it required purchasing two (or more) different programmers. The reason was the interface between the device and the programmer was hard-wired.
In 1992, BPM Microsystems (back then, they were called BP Microsystems) developed the 1200 Manual Programmer with a serial port connector. It was the first “universal” programmer– you could request additional device interfaces that would allow you to program more than just one device (or family of devices). BPM developed the first socket adapters, which are now used by all off-line device programmers.
Each device has specific programming parameters. It is not just a matter of sending an electrical signal to a specific pin—each device requires a unique algorithm to ensure it is programmed correctly.
For instance, for a device programmer to support a NAND flash device, two algorithms are needed. The first is the conventional device programming algorithm as specified by the semiconductor manufacturer. The second is the BBM algorithm. The BBM algorithm is a user-selectable software module that interfaces with the device programming algorithm. Its implementation depends upon the target system, not just the NAND device. The challenge is in obtaining a well-defined BBM algorithm specification. See White Paper Here.
Algos “translate” the data into a specific pattern based on the specs from the semi-house. It also sends the correct electrical signal to the correct pin. See Signal Integrity Article Here.
In 1996, BPM introduced the 4100, the first universal fine-pitch automated pick-and-place programming system. Finally, there was a solution to program, at scale, a variety of devices. Again, prior to the 4100, pick-and-place programmers could only program-specific families of devices.
Fast-forward to Today
BPM Microsystems pioneered universal device programming, but nowadays, most device programming solutions are “universal,” right? While it’s true that the days of single-use programmers (except for some extremely high-volume machines) died 25 years ago, that doesn’t mean that all “universal” programmers are truly universal.
Take, for instance, Data I/O. They make automated and manual device programmers in the US and China; they promote their programmers as “universal,” but that depends on your device programming requirements. Data I/O uses two different programming site technologies. Their FlashCORE III sites were developed in 2009; their newer LumenX sites came out in 2016. Let’s say you have a mix of eMMC, MCU, and EPROM devices to program. Their “universal” solution would require two sets of sites; LumenX sites for faster programming with eMMC devices and FlashCORE III to program the others. Are they, in fact, “universal?” Sounds like “not really.”
BPM’s 9th Generation Technology launched in 2016. 9th Gen sites with Vector Engine™ Co-Processor accelerate flash memory waveforms for programming near the theoretical limits of silicon design. The faster the device, the faster it’s programmed. With data transfer rates to 50 Gb per second, and verify rates up to 200 MB per second, 9th Gen sites offer the industry’s fastest times with even more capacity compared to other systems in its class. This is up to 9 times faster than competing “universal” programmers, offering the Largest Memory Support in the industry―256 GB, upgradeable to 512 GB. Plus, by downloading image files up to 25 MB per second to all programmers simultaneously, the system rapidly produces devices at maximum achievable throughput.
PSV5000 vs BPM 3928
Comparing the two platforms (Data I/O vs. BPM) with similar specifications in a typical configuration, a Data I/O PSV5000 would require two FlashCORE III sites, plus one LumenX site (total of 3), while a BPM 3928 would require two 9th Gen sites (which is included in the basic machine configuration). The BPM 3928 is upgradable to five more sites (a total of seven); The PSV5000 can add three additional sites for a total of 6 sites. But only three or four could be used at a time (depending on which site technology is added). The BPM solution is much less expensive because it is actually universal, and allows you to utilize all the connected sites simultaneously.
One could argue that the PSV5000 could be set up with six FlashCORE III sites or six LumenX sites (for a total of 12 sites)– you would only have to switch out the sites when you set-up for the specific job. Realistically, that’s not a viable option. The price for just the sites would cost more than double the original PSV5000 and would take many additional hours to do each change-over.
In the case of a site failure (it happens), with BPM’s universal sites and fault-tolerant hardware/software, the “dead” site can be automatically bypassed; thus, production still goes on (albeit, at reduced capacity). Recall the mix of eMMC, MCU, and EPROM devices to program. Their “universal” solution would require two sets of sites; LumenX sites for faster programming with eMMC devices and FlashCORE III to program the others. if the single LumenX site goes out on the PSV5000, your programming on the LumenX site is stopped until you can get the site replaced or repaired.
It’s always a good idea to plan for failures (they happen) by having a spare site available on-site (all APS manufacturers can provide you with spare kits). With BPM’s single-site technology, you only need one spare, which saves thousands of dollars. When getting a quote on an APS, make sure to ask for spares (and if you’ll need just one or two).
Universal could also mean “future-proof.” Knowing that 9th Gen sites can program legacy devices as well as the newest flash devices means your investment is not soon obsolete. BPM has customers that are still programming on ten- to 15-year-old (and older) 8th and 7th Gen machines. BPM continues to provide support for these legacy systems, and plan to for the foreseeable future.
Socket modules and socket cards are the electro-mechanical interfaces between the programmable semiconductor device and the programmer. It’s one of the secrets to BPM’s Universal Programming. The robust design is ideal for manufacturing and design environments where high signal integrity and reliable performance are critical.
The sophisticated technology of BPM Microsystems’ active circuitry delivers the cleanest waveform signals to the device by eliminating noise, ground bounce, and overshoot, which allows for the most reliable vector testing available to ensure the highest quality and overall yield.
Signal Integrity designed into the socket card allows for high quality/high-speed communication between the programmer and the device under test (DUT). High-quality communication allows for high-speed data transfer. How?
- Multiple layer PCBs
- Ground plane
- Controlled impedance
- Active circuit
- High-quality, gold-plated Samtec connectors on all 9th Gen Sites and Sockets
BPM Microsystems offers a substantial number of socket modules and socket cards to support thousands of devices from over 218 semiconductor manufacturers. Currently, there are over 39,000 devices supported on 9th Gen (three times greater than BPM’s nearest competitor).
New socket module and socket card designs are continuously added and can be requested to meet your programming needs (you can request support here).
“Universal” also means many of our older sockets (7th and 8th Gen) work with 9th Gen sites. When you upgrade to 9th Gen’s much faster programming protocol, it’s possible you can use your existing sockets (see if your socket is compatible here).
First Article to automated device production, use the same software, same sockets, same algos, same results.
Finally, universal means using the same software (BPWin), and sockets/algos on all 9th Gen programmers, from manual to automated (the only additional thing needed on the automated programmers are pressure plates which are inexpensive and last forever). No matter if it’s the first article to final production, nearly everything is compatible.
BPM’s universal device programmers are truly universal, in every sense of the word. In an uncertain world during uncertain times, it’s comforting to know a BPM solution will deliver years of reliably programmed devices, and that “universal” actually means “universal.”
How BPM’s device programmers master $100K antifuse FPGAs
The first few seconds are critical. There are a million things that have to go just right. If the rocket makes it to the second-stage burn, the engineers in mission control can begin to breathe again. For the payload specialists, the hard part is still hours, days, or even years to come. Where their satellite, probe, or manned mission is going, there are no service calls. Under the harshest conditions that are known to exist (extremes of heat/cold, g-forces, radiation, etc.) their payloads are expected to perform flawlessly well beyond what’s even realistic back on earth.
Whether it’s a sensor on an anti-lock brake assembly or a telemetry chip on a satellite, there are increasing numbers of programmed devices where failure isn’t an option; either it’s difficult or impossible to replace in the field, or failure means the potential loss of irreplaceable life and equipment (or both). When it comes to programming a mission-critical antifuse device, who is the only authorized vendor on which Microsemi relies? BPM Microsystems.
According to a Microsemi white paper, an antifuse-based FPGA is, “the most secure programmable device available.” Antifuse FPGAs are a one-time programmable non-volatile device that never uses a bitstream. Once programmed, it can’t be intercepted, copied, modified, or corrupted. They are also highly impervious to radiation (“Rad-Hard”). On the other hand, you’ve only got one shot to program the device, so it’s vital that it be programmed correctly.
Read More Here
Antifuse FPGAs have been around since the ‘90s, yet are still the most secure silicon devices available. From a practical perspective, antifuse devices are virtually impossible to reverse engineer. For instance, to determine the difference between programmed and unprogrammed fuses requires a scanning electron microscope, which when used, physically destroys the device in the process.
A single blank antifuse device can range in cost from a few thousand dollars to as much as $100,000! When a single device can cost as much as 50 times as much as the system that programs it, Microsemi has only licensed BPM to build their family of Silicon Sculptor programmers, now entering the 4th generation. The latest, the Silicon Sculptor 4 is built on the BPM 9th Generation site technology; 9th Gen programming sites are the most universal, most widely developed (35K+ devices and growing), fastest programming technology in the industry, and has been vetted by the most rigorous and demanding requirements in the business of programming. The underlying architecture was developed from the testing industry and is capable of generating the cleanest waveforms for the highest signal integrity, ensuring maximum trouble-free life in the field (even if that field is deep space).
When one chip costs more than some automated systems (such as BPM’s 3901 Automated Programming System that starts at just under $90K) and there is no “second chance,” it has to be perfect the first time. The Silicon Sculptor 4 continues the tradition of delivering consistent quality devices to places where repair trucks can’t go.
Hardly anyone has the same quality requirements as antifuse devices. It is comforting to know the same attention to clean waveforms that Microsemi relies on is available to everyone. Anyone can benefit from the design criteria that are built into BPM’s 9th Gen family of programmers. Signal quality, power supply design, and system self-check ensure the highest level of quality for you.
From a time, cost and personnel perspective, it’s easier than you think
Moore’s law (Moore’s law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law) )states integrated circuits double in both speed and number of circuits roughly every two years. As programmable devices become smaller, denser, and more complex, most machines that program those devices have become more expensive, and require experienced technicians to operate, maintain and troubleshoot.
The downside to outsourcing programming are legion: added cost, minimum orders, long lead time, and reprogramming or scrap when data files change. Another danger is protecting your intellectual property. Once your source code leaves the vault in your factory, it is vulnerable to theft (This is not a concern if you’re using a reputable programming house in your home country or region. If your source code crosses a border, you’re putting your company at risk. ) Due to current market conditions, companies are increasingly concerned about interruptions in the supply chain, especially for components sourced from Asia.
Until recently, it wasn’t feasible for most Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) with significant programmed device requirements (A good ball-park for an automated programmer is in excess of 50K devices per month. ) to justify the cost of bringing programming in-house. Automated Programming Systems (APS) were expensive and complex to set-up, run and maintain. That’s when BPM changed the game.
A short history lesson
BPM Microsystems started making EPROM programmers in the mid-80s. BPM’s Founder Bill White was a student at Rice University, working on his degree in Electrical Engineering. He needed a way to get his code on a read-only chip, and discovered there just wasn’t a good way to do it. So, he built his own programmer. While he was still living in the dorm, he started selling his programmer, the EP-1, by mail order, and BPM Microsystems was born. BPM has a history of simple-to-operate, reliable systems that deliver the industry’s best results.
BPM launched its first automated programmer in the mid-90s: the BPM 4100 was the only universal fine-pitch automated pick-and-place programming system. Compared to today’s machines, it was slower and more difficult to set up (and operated in DOS). Compared to the single-purpose machines of that day, the 4100 revolutionized device programming by combining universal programming technology with universal fine-pitch handling capability.
Holy Grail of Device Programming
The “holy grail” of consistent automated programming results is the Z-axis teach. There are three axes on an automated handler: X, Y, and Z (Theta is the 4th “axis” which determines the precise orientation of the device (rotation)). X (horizontal) and Y (vertical) are easy; a downward camera with a bomb site allows for precise placement on the center of a device. The Z (up/down) is, by far, the most difficult and the most important. Both the pick and place locations, if off by less than the width of a human hair, can cause major problems. Manually-adjusted z-teach can go badly two ways: pick (or place) too high can cause misalignment of the device; place (or pick) too low, where the nozzle comes in contact with the device, can cause micro-cracks. Devices with micro-cracks usually pass the initial test (green light), but can oxidize the sensitive metal film causing devices to fail in the field.
BPM is the first to solve the Z-axis conundrum with a patent-pending solution called WhisperTeach. It utilizes hardware and software to turn the device nozzle into a sensor. Without coming in contact with the device, the automated system detects the height of the device to within 15 microns (4 times finer than a human hair) and automatically completes the “teach” in less than 8 seconds. A trained technician, although not as accurate as WhisperTeach, can teach a single location in about a minute. On a single job set-up, the difference in time is dramatic: WhisperTeach set-up is usually around 5 minutes; manual teach can take up to 45 minutes to an hour. When you add the loss of productivity to the reduction in precision, things can quickly get dicey. Regardless of which programmer, pick-and-place systems are incredibly repeatable: if the teach is off by a little, the pick/place will be consistently off as well.
WhisperTeach is available on all BPM automated systems, not just on its high-end systems.
Bringing it Home
Since about 2010, the strongest market segment for Automated Programmers has been Automotive suppliers. Automotive suppliers have an ever-increasing need for programming as cars become more complex and technology-driven. They also often require 3D inspection and laser marking to ensure consistent quality and to track inventory. Big projects, with millions of programmed devices, make device programming in-house a no-brainer.
Smaller OEMs, while perhaps having many of the same needs as the Automotive guys, were constrained by limited resources. As their programming needs outgrew their ability to produce on manual systems, the only option was to outsource to the programming houses or ship their component manufacturing off-shore.
Then came the perfect storm of 2019: a crippling trade war, followed by a growing pandemic.
OEMs recognize the risk in outsourcing critical components, such as programmed devices, to off-shore suppliers. They are looking more closely at options that reduce their reliance on forces beyond their control in a way that reduces costs and speeds go-to-market.
BPM has a history of innovation; they also have a reputation as the “luxury brand” in device programming– feature-rich, and pricy, especially when compared to low-cost Asian machines. That changed with the launch of the 3901, the lowest cost full-featured automated system with vision centering (Precisely center the device (even if the operator is slightly off) and affect the theta spin while traveling to the site location, which delivers incredibly precise placement without the need to slow down) and true universal support (Only BPM has the same site technology, same software, same sockets and algorithms in all of their 9th Generation programmers. With over 35,000 supported devices, including the most difficult and mission-critical, no one in the industry comes close.). The 3901 starts at under $90,000 with a maximum configuration of 16 device sockets (Sockets are specific to the device they program and act as the bridge between the device and the programmer).
Within 10 days of the 3901 launch in October of 2019, the first machine sold to a telecommunications OEM in the Northeast US. The second soon sold to a Midwest heavy equipment manufacturer. Both companies needed an affordable system that can supply their catalog of programmed devices to their lines. The 3901 quickly became the fastest-selling automated system in BPM’s 35-year history. Equipment manufacturers, especially those in North America and Europe/Middle East, finally have a lower-cost option for their device programming needs without sacrificing quality and capability.
With the launch of the seven-site 3928 in November 2019, companies have access to automotive-level quality (available 3D inspection) with up to 28 sockets in a fully-loaded system that starts at just under $110,000.
Hot buttons for OEMs
- Faster time to market– go from prototype to production in weeks, not months.
- Expand vertical manufacturing capability
- React to design changes quickly– tweaks in code can be updated to the workflow in just a few minutes
- Intellectual Property physically protected from theft (This is one of the reasons BPM has maintained a technology advantage over their competitors. The “secret sauce” source code stays locked at BPM’s campus in Houston, Texas USA, where they still build all of their systems.)
- Don’t have to shut down the line due to supply chain issues with programmed devices
- Device programming is easier than ever before; Installed and operational in less than one week
- Manual programmers can provide 10s of thousands of devices per year; when demand exceeds manual capacity, it’s easy to migrate to an automated system (same sockets, software, no need to redo first article, etc.)
- One high-speed universal platform can support millions of devices per year, at an incredibly low cost per device
- As demand increases, it’s easy to add additional sites for more capacity. If additional capacity is needed, add additional shifts without needing highly skilled technicians
- Lower cost solutions (3901, 3928) provide the greatest value in the industry. ROI in months, not years.
You can’t control world events– what you can do is provide your manufacturing team with an uninterrupted supply of high-quality, low cost programmed devices. To find out more about how BPM is changing device programming for OEMs, please call us at +1 (713) 263-3776, or Toll-Free in the US: (855) SELL BPM. Ask us about the industry’s only self-installation for APS that’s fast, easy, and free.