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Universal Device Programmers

Universal Device Programmers

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.

Universal Hardware/Software 

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).

Universal Device programming with 9th Gen

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.”

Programming Devices— where no repairman has gone before

Programming Devices— where no repairman has gone before

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.

Bring your mission-critical programming in-house for less than the cost of outsourcing AND maintain control of your IP

Bring your mission-critical programming in-house for less than the cost of outsourcing AND maintain control of your IP

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.


Signal Integrity

Signal Integrity

Signal Integrity

A “green light” doesn’t always mean the part is programmed correctly

High quality signals, Examples: Free-Running Clock (200MHz)

Have you ever had an electronic item that sometimes glitches or just stops running? Yes, you checked the batteries; it’s plugged into the wall— yet, nothing. It may not be you… You may be experiencing amnesia.

When a device loses its pattern, it’s called amnesia. Sometimes it’s called a bit-flip. It may start with just an occasional failure to boot up, but then progresses until the gadget won’t work at all. To understand how this can happen, let’s talk about how data is actually stored. 

It may surprise you, but device programming is actually (more or less) analog. The basic building block of all code is a bit. Bits form bytes, and bytes form the foundation for most code. Bits are “1” or “0”, but to get that “bit” of information, we actually start much smaller—electrons.   

When programming a serial flash device or MCU, every bit we store in the device is stored on a floating gate MOSFET transistor. The floating gate transistor, which is the basis of every flash device, is inherently an analog device. To get a “1” bit means it has more than a certain number of electrons stored on the gate; a “0” bit means it has fewer than that certain number. In between the “0” and the “1” lies a region of uncertainty— where the bit is going to read as a “1” sometimes and a “0” other times (not good).

Electrons are lost during the years that the device is in service due to ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays (even normal sunlight). If there are not enough electrons stored on the floating gate during programming, the device can lose its memory prematurely. 

Device Life Depends on Signal Integrity

Most devices today are rated for 20 years of data retention. But, if not properly programmed, data may be lost after just a few hours, months or years, even if the device passes the initial “green light” verification.

Programmers must go to great lengths to ensure signal integrity when programming devices. It requires specialized hardware that is typically not found in less expensive programmers. The acid test— can the programmer program and test the most challenging devices, such as the AMD PALs, which are notoriously “challenging,” or antifuse FPGAs, where a single device can cost upwards of $100K each. In programming devices, it’s vital to meet every specification of the device being programmed to avoid bit flips. 

Controlled impedance traces on the PCBs are critical to signal integrity. Controlled impedance is the characteristic impedance of a transmission line formed by PCB conductors. It is relevant when high-frequency signals propagate on the PCB transmission lines. Controlled impedance is important for signal integrity: it is the propagation of signals without distortion.  Boards should be thoroughly tested in-house on a high-dollar oscilloscope before manufacturing. Not all of our board vendors make the grade. The problem gets down to overshoot and ringing, undershoot and rise times, and noise on these edges, set up and hold times— all these specs have to be met, or the quality of the part may prematurely degrade. 

Older Tesla Models are Wearing Out

According to a recent article in EE Times, the embedded NAND-based eMMC memory found in older Tesla Model S and X units are wearing out and bricking the in-vehicle displays. With the Flash memory down, drivers no longer have access to some of the vehicle’s features, including climate control, autopilot, and lighting control. While owners can still technically drive the affected electric vehicles, they will not be able to charge them, effectively making the cars inoperable. This has been exasperated by the in-vehicle displays getting frequently updated, which is wearing the chips out prematurely.

The Green Light

The green light on the socket indicates the programmer was able to verify the part. Unfortunately, it may not mean the programmer is meeting all of the device requirements. Waveform integrity has to be verified with an oscilloscope, not just the green light — it’s about meeting the specs of the device with clean waveforms for maximum quality and life expectancy. 

Each part you are programming was tested and qualified on a “million-dollar” tester at the Semi House to ensure it works correctly. The device manufacturer guarantees the part will work if you meet the parts specifications. They do not test the part to ensure it will work with overshoot, ringing, ground bounce, VCC noise, ground noise, crosstalk, substrate noise, low edge rates, no bypass capacitor, setup violations, hold time violations, shorter than required programming pulses and other signal integrity problems.

When a device is programmed with inferior waveform quality, it effectively becomes a “test pilot.” How long will the data be retained? Nobody knows. It has never been tested and qualified in those conditions. Even if it passes today, that doesn’t mean it will continue to work in-circuit, with variations in voltage, temperature, timing, and the inevitable decay caused by continual bombardment from solar and terrestrial radiation sources. 

One more thing to look for is “hard gold” on the PCBs. Hard gold is an extra layer of quality to ensure low resistance contacts, especially on socket cards connections between the PCB and socket. It also ensures solder connections that won’t oxidize.


The Bottom Line

  • Many cheap programmers are available that don’t pay attention to signal integrity
  • Just getting the green light on is not the same as programming the DUT correctly. It does not ensure good signal integrity.
  • When you don’t meet the device specs, you become a test pilot. You are operating the device in conditions it has never been tested to handle. Your results are unpredictable.
  • Devices can get amnesia days, months or years after programming if the programmer has poor signal integrity
  • Programmers with 2-layer boards, dip adapters and no active circuitry by the socket are highly suspect 

To Ensure Signal Quality

  • Pin drivers  must be are accurate enough to meet the stringent demands of eMMC programming at HS400 with 600ps rise time and fall time
  • Utilize premium 3GHz controlled-impedance connectors on every socket adapter 
  • Design using controlled impedance multi-layer PCBs right up to the socket to maintain signal integrity
  • Test the waveform accuracy and impedance of circuit boards to ensure signal integrity
  • Sophisticated Oscilloscope tests should be used to confirm performance, rise time and signal integrity


Not all programming solutions are the same. If quality and maximum device life are important, it’s imperative to know what to look for. When evaluating a programming solution, ask about signal integrity. Go through the device specifications and demand evidence that all of the specs are being followed.
Are Market Forces Beyond Your Control Keeping You Up at Night?

Are Market Forces Beyond Your Control Keeping You Up at Night?

It may be time for OEMs to bring device programming in-house

Since 2010, the strongest market for Automated Programmers has been automotive suppliers. Smaller OEMs, while having many of the same needs as the Automotive guys, are more hampered by limited resources. As their programming needs outgrow their ability to produce on manual systems, the only option is to outsource to the programming houses, or ship their component manufacturing off-shore.

Then came the perfect storm of 2019-2020: 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.

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
  • Don’t have to shut down the line due to supply chain issues with programmed devices
  • The solution is available– from P.O. to programming in days, not months

See what a telecommunications OEM in the Northeast and a Midwest heavy equipment manufacturer did to ensure an uninterrupted supply of high-quality programmable devices to their lines. Discover for yourself a lower-cost option for your device programming needs without sacrificing quality and capability.

CSP Device Programming Strategies for the C-Suite

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.

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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.