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Electroforming: Veco's Future-Proof Solution for Miniaturized Contacts

Dec 1, 2017 7:00:00 AM By Harrie Knol

How our HR nickel & Electroforming process helped a world leading semiconductor IC manufacturer

Semiconductor companies are faced by constant pressure to outperform their competitors and deliver the next ‘big thing’ – to produce parts that are smaller, more durable, and more powerful, all while maintaining cost efficiency and sustainable production. In an industry characterised by rapid technological evolution and constant innovation, this is a full-time task. To this end, it’s essential that semiconductor manufacturers are able to prototype new products with extreme efficiency.

We’ve been working with Multitest since 2010, and helped them along the way of being international leader in semiconductor manufacturing. In this blog, we’ll take a look back at our project with Multitest and the work we’ve done with them over the years. Specifically, we’ll look at the operational and financial benefits that our Heat Resistant (HR) nickel provided them in both their testing and production processes.

About Multitest

Over the past decades, Multitest has grown from a start-up company into one of the world’s leading manufacturers of testing equipment for semiconductor Integrated Circuits (ICs). In that time, they’ve gone from a company of four members and a handful of local clients, to a multinational corporation with hundreds of employees, serving a growing number of international partners. Multitest has offices in over 20 locations across Europe, Asia, and the USA, and is a trusted partner to the world’s most renowned semiconductor manufacturers.

Multitest provides innovative test handling and test interface solutions, tailored to suit the individual requirements of each customer they partner with. They pride themselves on delivering high throughput rates, micron-scale measurement, precision temperature accuracy, and the latest technology for measurement and production. 

Before Veco:  The challenges faced by Multitest

When Multitest approached us with the challenge of improving testing efficiency and profitability, they were looking for an electroforming partner who was not only able to deliver samples of the highest possible quality and reliability but also to do so at an industrial scale.

Veco’s ability to produce large volumes of parts rapidly and at scale made us a perfect fit for them. Our relationship with Multitest started in 2010, when we began supplying them with electroplated micro-precision parts.

When Multitest took us on as a supplier, they started growing at a rapid rate, and looking for ways to increase efficiency and adapt to the new scale that their increased demand required. I visited Multitest in 2014 to develop a solution alongside them, and it became clear to me that in order for them to achieve their goals, we would need to develop an innovative and unprecedented strategy. To this end, we started working on a new project together, using what we’ve subsequently come to call our experimental approach to prototyping (You can read more about the experimental approach in one of our previous blogs) and our newly-developed HR nickel technology.

How Veco’s electroforming technology helped Multitest as a global leader in semiconductor ICs

Multitest’s high production demands and their exacting quality standards means their testing process was intensive, and required a high degree of accuracy, reliability and stability. The semiconductor parts produced by Multitest are extremely small – often only a few hundred microns in height.

Testing with high precision probes has some principal challenges:  the probes are subject to rises in temperature during the testing process, which can cause instability and even failure if the material is unable to handle it. Because of Multitest’s stringent quality requirements, they needed their probes to be constructed from a metal that is durable enough to handle the stresses involved in their testing process without it changing properties.

Heat Resistant (HR) Nickel is a unique form of nickel developed by Veco to withstand the stresses involved in the rigorous testing methods used by semiconductor producers. It’s based on entirely different additives to the nickel products developed by our competitors, and has a high heat resistance and conductivity. This makes it possible to subject components to extensive and intensive testing without the material changing properties, and ultimately makes the testing process more consistent and reliable.

How Veco and Multitest’s partnership resulted in increased efficiency and profitability

There are a number of factors to consider when it comes to the benefits our partnership with Multitest has provided:

  • HR Nickel makes testing more reliable and profitable

Using our HR Nickel hasn’t just improved the reliability of Multitest’s testing process: it allowed them to increase the profitability and productivity of their entire business. By using a metal that is better suited to the stresses of semiconductor testing, failure rates are significantly lower, and getting accurate testing results is faster, more reliable and more affordable, without compromising on quality. A principal challenge that Multitest had with other suppliers was that their testing probes were suitable for testing, but weren’t resilient enough to be used in millions of measurement cycles. HR nickel makes it possible for Multitest to run several million tests on their components before they show any signs of wear (Up to three times more than conventional components), and are suitable for both testing and production purposes. 

  • Electroforming gives you access to high-precision parts at scale

Electroforming differs from other techniques in that it allows manufacturers to ‘grow’ parts atom by atom, which provides accurate, high aspect ratios. Electroforming is an Additive Manufacturing technology. Unparalelled high accuracy is achived by a Lithographic process combined with this Electroforming process. 

Electroformed components have an extremely clean and smooth surface quality which is burr and stress-free, with straight side walls, sharp edges and accurate hole sizes impossible to achieve through other techniques. It also allows for exceptionally short lead times both in prototyping and production. In practice, this allows Multitest to achieve near-perfect process control, high repeatability and top-quality component production – in other words, it’s the perfect solution for manufacturers looking to achieve high production volumes at minimal cost.

  • A shared vision and co-development helps us achieve and exceed Multitest’s goals

We’ve helped Multitest achieve many operational benefits during our time working with them, but I believe it’s the way we approach our partnership that adds the most significant value to them: instead of a traditional supplier/manufacturer relationship, Multitest and Veco work hand-in-hand with Multitest every step of the way, which ensures our visions are aligned at all points. On the technical side, our Application Engineers co-operate with Multitest’s engineers to develop solutions co-operatively. Our relationship with their engineers is ongoing, and we have regular check-ins to ensure we’re consistently helping them achieve their targets. We also share a KanBan system with their purchasing department, which allows us to keep their main parts on stock for fast delivery.

The fact that we work so closely alongside Multitest’s engineers and purchasing team also means that we have a unique insight into the context of their business, the challenges they face and the goals they hope to achieve. This means we’re able to provide them with a tailored, innovative solution that is based on their specific demands and requirements.

Where to from here?

We’ve had some fantastic experiences working with Multitest so far – they’re a pleasure to work with, and we’re thrilled that we’ve been able to add consistent, tangible value to their business. We’ve got big plans for the future with Multitest too: we’re already working on some new projects with them to drive down component sizes into the hundred-micron range over the next few years. We’re also in development of HR+ nickel, which offers superior heat resistance to our already industry-leading HR nickel.

If you’d like to discover more about the electroforming process and how it could increase efficiency and profitability in your business, we’ve put together a free whitepaper entitled Electroforming: Innovation in Additive Manufacturing. Download it at the link below, or request a consultation with one of our engineers if you’d like to find out more about our co-development services.

Download whitepaper

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