In partnership with supplier Cortexon, NXP has developed the next generation of its test system for chips (ICs). The integration of mechanical and electronic design culminated in an even more advanced system: nxParset.
Since 1991 ITEC (Industrial Technology & Engineering Center) has been operating as an internal supplier to NXP on the Parset platform: test systems for discrete components – transistors and diodes – as well as ICs. The development started with the Parset (parametic semiconductor tester), followed by the µParset and now, therefore, The nxParset enhances the possibilities in terms of the functional testing of chips, and because the system is multisite, it is capable of measuring several products in parallel. What this means is even faster testing and even greater throughput. ‘Two to three times faster than NXP’s competitors’, says a proud Henry Wichert. ‘Indispensable if you’re looking to test tens of billions of chips each year.’ The nxParset is now being used to measure sensors for the automotive industry at NXP’s site in Hamburg – to the complete satisfaction of the customer.
An important partner in the development of the Parset platform is Cortexon based in Veghel. The company supplies customer-specific housings for electronics and over the past few years has developed dozens of products in conjunction with NXP. ‘Back then we started out with a standard housing, but this soon evolved into a specific design. It started with µParset. For this we wanted an aesthetically pleasing, functional and recognisable design’, says Henry Wichert. ‘If functional is what you want, then you’re in good hands with Cortexon. They don’t lose sight of the functionality. They know you have to be able to access it for maintenance in any way whatsoever, how essential cooling is, etc. The high degree of integration means you standard components no longer suffice.’
The requirements that NXP-ITEC set for the design of housings helped Cortexon professionalise further. ‘The cooperation enhanced our expertise in housings for electronics and assembly of electronic components’, says Business Unit Manager Marcel van de Sande. Cortexon performs a proportion of the electronic assembly. ‘It’s useful for NXP if certain components have been pre-integrated into the housing. This optimises the supply chain.’
The nxParset was developed in line with the PXI standard in combination with customer-specific solutions. To this end, NXP and Cortexon collaborated with the American inTEST. ‘The components were developed separately. Everyone prepared a design in 3D. Subsequently, on the basis of design reviews, we made several strides in the draft design before building a prototype’, explains Senior Project Manager Vincent van der Velden. ‘A real challenge, because all three of us were working with a different engineering system. In the end we managed to integrate everything into a single design. And everything fitted immediately, much to our delight. After all, if it’s not right first time, that sets you back four months in the design process.’
‘It’s precisely if you don’t have a clue about housings that your questions can sometimes yield useful adjustments’
The cooling of all compartments was not the only challenge for Cortexon. ‘The positioning of the print cards and alignment of the connectors is extremely precise work. We gradually optimised this during the design process so as to make maintenance and assembly easier, as a result of which less configuration work will be necessary’, says Marcel van de Sande. Furthermore, Cortexon also had to take electromagnetic compatibility (EMC requirements) into consideration so as to not disrupt the test process. ‘Which is why the housing is impervious to electrical radiation on two sides. High-frequency radiation cannot escape from it (emission) and signals from such things as a mobile phone can’t get in (immunity).’ Henry Wichert cites this immunity as an essential aspect. ‘This requirement is primarily down to the fact that we want to measure properly.’ One of the tricks in the case is the compartmentalisation: shielding certain spaces, likewise intended to ensure that the measuring process runs with minimum disruption.
In addition to EMC, attention was also devoted to ESD (Electrostatic Discharge), with the assembly being done in an ESD-safe room. Even the packaging for transport of the nxParset housings does not escape attention. Marcel van de Sande: ‘We work with an antistatic casing and have developed a special bracket to lift the housing out of the box. The integrator gets it out of the box, fits the remaining electronic components, tests the system and then the housing is put back in the box and shipped off to the end customer.’ NXP-ITEC has short lead times. When dealing with suppliers such as Cortexon, the company works with Outline Agreements; basic contracts to cover the financing of the supply chain.
The development process is characterised by openness between parties, says Henry Wichert. ‘We’ve discussed everything with one another, right down to the smallest details. We highlight the hotspots, literally the places where we’re expecting the temperature to rise. Cortexon keeps these in mind when installing the fans and generates the requisite airflow. But they also look at whether a connection could be moved a millimetre to the left to produce a better result for us. It’s precisely if you don’t have a clue about housings that your questions can sometimes yield useful adjustments.’ Marcel van de Sande echoes this. ‘At first I thought a printed circuit board was a fixed design. It turns out that that’s not always the case, presenting us with increased opportunities in terms of design.’ Vincent van der Velden sums it up concisely: ‘This transdisciplinary thinking is producing a high degree of integration of electronic and mechanical design. Rendering the nxParset unique. Built in line with the PXI standard and combined with all manner of freedoms so as to come up with an optimum product.’