March 21, 2012

Advanced Component Testing: Decapsulation

For the past month, I have been blogging about advanced testing methods for electronic components, discussing XRF analysis and X-ray imaging. The last advanced testing process I will explain in this series is decapsulation. 

At Converge, we have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to substandard components, and we have invested in numerous advanced testing capabilities to help ensure the safety of our supply chain. If any discrepancy raises a red flag during our 76-point inspection – from suspicious markings to inaccurate measurements – our engineers can use these advanced methods to further investigate the authenticity of the components in-house at no additional cost to our customers. Both XRF analysis and X-ray imaging are nondestructive processes. Decapsulation, on the other hand, is used as a last resort. 

Decapsulation is a destructive testing process used to properly expose the die of an integrated circuit for full visual inspection and further verification. Integrated circuits, or ICs, are complex, high-density parts that are often encased in a plastic or resin compound known as a mold. Molded ICs can be difficult to verify for authenticity, since the die is no longer accessible. 

Converge uses a jet etcher to decapsulate sample ICs from a questionable lot when more answers are needed to properly identify the materials. This intricate machine carefully uses nitric and sulfuric acid to remove the outer layers of the mold. Once completed, the process exposes what is underneath – bond pads, bond wires, die markings (manufacturer logos, ID numbers, die revisions, etc.), and lead frame interconnects. 

Photos: A decapsulated IC package is examined under a high-power microscope. The average IC is just a few millimeters in diameter, and the die inside looks like a mere speck to the naked eye. With this technique, engineers are able to authenticate details that would be impossible to verify with only a visual inspection.   

Following decapsulation of the IC, a Converge engineer examines each part with a high-power microscope. By comparing the microscopic images with the original purchase orders, the manufacturer’s data sheets, and/or the internal structure of golden samples with the same date and lot codes, trained engineers can detect minute discrepancies that would otherwise be impossible to see. If a substandard part is identified, it is immediately pulled from the supply chain. This makes decapsulation an important, if not critical, part of any quality-driven distributor’s counterfeit-prevention program.

The advanced testing equipment that Converge has in-house makes decapsulation relatively quick and efficient. It enables our trained engineers to leave no stone left unturned when verifying IC authenticity, providing an extra level of quality assurance to our customers at no extra cost. Many independent distributors do not offer this service. Others outsource decapsulation to a third-party testing service, which increases the cost for the customer. 

Yes, purchasing decapsulation machines for in-house use and hiring the engineers who use them have required a significant capital investment on Converge’s part. But we believe it is worth every penny. Our customers shouldn’t have to pay extra to ensure that the electronic components they are ordering are actually what they are purported to be. Converge believes that quality assurance should always be part of the original package – not an added feature. Would you agree?

If you missed Part I-XRF Analysis and Part II-X-ray Imaging of our Advanced Component Testing Series, you can read them now. 

March 7, 2012

Advanced Component Testing: X-ray Imaging

In my last post, I wrote about XRF analysis in the first of a three-part series on advanced component testing capabilities. Converge offers each of these capabilities in-house as an added quality assurance measure for our customers. If any discrepancy raises a red flag during our initial 76-point electronic component inspection – from suspicious markings to inaccurate measurements – our in-house certified engineers use advanced testing methods to further investigate the authenticity of the components. One of those testing methods is X-ray imaging. 

Everyone is familiar with X-ray technology. It is very likely that you have or someone in your family has needed at least one medical X-ray at some point. Even young children can understand how the advanced imaging that X-rays provide is beneficial to physicians. 

X-ray imaging for electronic components works in the same way. There are smaller high-resolution X-ray machines that are uniquely designed to look inside components (e.g., ICs, capacitors, diodes, resistors and hybrids) to help detect flaws that aren’t obvious through exterior examination. In addition, X-ray imaging is able to provide this internal view without destroying the parts. 

By comparing a component’s X-ray image with the manufacturer’s data sheet, or the internal structure of a known-good sample with the same date and lot code, Converge engineers can detect substandard or counterfeit components that might otherwise go unnoticed. X-ray imaging can reveal differences in die size, die frame, wire bond patterns, and internal lead characteristics. It can identify shorts or bridges, detect cracks in the epoxy, and recognize tampering attempts. This makes X-ray imaging an important part of any quality-driven electronics distributor’s counterfeit-prevention program. 

These side-by-side X-ray images show integrated circuits in discrepant condition. While the lead frame and die pad is the same for both parts, the size of the die is different. This is suspect for parts within the same date or lot code. It would not be suspect for different date codes if there was documentation of a die redesign.

However, X-ray equipment is also very expensive and requires expertise to operate. Therefore, many smaller independent electronics distributors do not offer this testing capability. It requires a significant capital investment that many are not able – or perhaps willing – to make. In some instances, other distributors outsource their X-ray testing at significant added cost to their customers. 

Converge is proud to offer, at no additional cost, in-house X-ray inspection whenever extra verification is needed, as an added level of protection for our customers. It helps us ensure the authenticity of every order that passes through our warehouse and maintain the integrity of our supply chain. More important, it helps us provide peace of mind to every company we serve. 

If you missed Part I - XRF Analysis or Part III - Decapsulation of our Advanced Component Testing blog series, you can read them now.