User Story

Autodesk Inventor : Credence Systems Corporation

Credence Systems Corporation (Fremont, CA) is a worldwide leader in pioneering cost effective, innovative solutions for semiconductor testing - from design to production. Credence has become the value standard in semiconductor testing by striving to redefine every aspect of the practice.

Jeff McMullin is a Credence design engineer for custom products at the company's Hillsboro, OR facility. "Our testers interface with many other machines and often times that requires custom interfacing between pieces of equipment. I design interfacing equipment and redesign pieces of existing equipment to suit specific customer needs. Think of it as wanting to buy an automobile, and having to buy the engine from one manufacture, and the transmission from another and you will need to interconnect the two. Credence is well recognized for helping its customers make our equipment work with pieces of equipment they use from other companies. We are systems integrators as well as being developers of testing equipment.

"Our machines test IC chips whether they are packaged or still in a wafer form. Our testers go beyond 'pass/fail' testing, they allow for the quality grading of each chip. What really differentiates us from our competitors is that our machines perform a lot of volume testing, particularly when cost of equipment ownership is important. The primary concern for many of our customers is focused on their cost of operations. Our machines use a lot less power than many of our competitors. For instance, if a company needed a tester for a couple engineers to test IC chips, then power consumption isn't a big issue. However, when a company needs to test millions of chips in production, then power consumption becomes a horrendous issue and the cost of operations becomes the deciding factor in whose testing equipment is going to be used. In this case, machines, like ours, which use a lot less power, become very important to a company."

Tester development challenges
McMullin says that cost of ownership is always a major factor to Credence's customers. From an interfacing perspective, ergonomics of the equipment is a major issue. For many customers, particularly those that test several different IC types throughout a daily cycle, the practice is to detach, change out components, and reattach all of the devices to accommodate the new IC specifications. For each setup, there can be many parts that are changed out for each job.

McMullin explains, "Let's say a customer has been testing "XYZ" chips that are in a wafer format (an 8-inch silicon disk) and they need to switch to an "ABC" configured chip. To do that, the users must break down the equipment setup, replace the "XYZ" related parts with "ABC" specific parts and reassemble the entire setup. Ergonomics becomes a substantial issue since some of these components are significant in size and weight. A tester can weigh between 200-1,000 pounds and the probe can weigh 500 pounds. The effort is sort of like docking a spacecraft. Try mating nearly 3,000 pins to a like number of electrical contacts or pads to accuracies of .00005 of an inch.

Further, the robustness of Credence's machines is essential. Testers are sometimes taken apart and reassembled, several times per day. Therefore, the equipment needs to be reliable and sturdy so that all parts assemble accurately every time.

Another weighty challenge in developing testers is the need to remain current. Credence maintains unique relationships with its customers so we can make timely changes to accommodate customer needs and market trends. For example, each week, Credence contacts Lucent Technologies, one of their customers, via a weekly telephone conference call. All the players from Credence and Lucent join in to discuss a range of issues. Utilizing video and audio conferencing technologies, the Credence team interacts with the individuals from engineering to senior management.

As a result of continual communications, McMullin and his team know that customers want cost effective solutions and state of the art products that are delivered on time. They also want a provider that works alongside them to help them remain successful. McMullin says, "In the wafer world of capital equipment, we are committed to helping our customers use our machines. We don't just drop the order off and wish them well."

Meeting major requirements
McMullin and his team began considering Autodesk Inventor software back in its infancy of alpha and beta stages. As former Autodesk Mechanical Desktop and Pro/ENGINEER users, they made a decision to migrate to Autodesk Inventor a little less than one year ago. "We knew we needed to standardize," says McMullin "and we've decided that Inventor will be the software of choice for the next generation of Credence testers."

Prior to selecting Autodesk Inventor, McMullin did his homework and evaluated most of the other competitive products on the market today. "At the end of all the due diligence," says McMullin, "we decided that Inventor is making a leap forward in terms of functionality and ease of use and we wanted to be a part of that movement."

The selection strategy
McMullin says that there are high-end mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD) products that cost several times the price of Autodesk Inventor. "I didn't expect something that costs 10 times less than those high end products to have so much of the functionality," says McMullin. "Inventor has about 98% of the functionality of the high end products.

"The interesting part of the evaluation process took place when we re-evaluated Pro/E. While there are some capabilities that it has that Inventor may not, the pain and agony of getting people up to speed and performing the day-to-day, activities just isn't worth it. If, for instance, we need to create some really odd component, it's likely that Pro/E can do it. But, the software doesn't easily address the things you need to do day in and day out. I believe that Inventor is more robust than any combination of the other mid-range products."

The Credence team came up to speed using Autodesk Inventor very quickly. McMullin says that a user can become productive using Autodesk Inventor within a day or two without training. "That user can be a power user within a week," notes McMullin. "The beauty of Inventor is the ease of learning - self taught software!"

Today's typical engineer doesn't have the luxury of weeks of off-site training and months of learning how to use the software in production mode. Many times, a new user installs the software on a Monday, visits a customer site on Tuesday and Wednesday, returns to the office on Thursday, and on Friday is expected to be MCAD proficient.

McMullin says, "Inventor provides an answer to that typical scenario that is better than anything I've seen before. Literally you can be away from the product for days, come back, and within an hour you're up and running at full capacity. Consider other products. Users in the same situation have to remember hundreds of submenus and icons. Whereas, using Inventor, when users reach a certain point in the design process, the software offers the four or five options that make sense for that stage of the design process. The product intuitively selects options for the user.

"Why spend two or three months getting up to speed using some high-priced, high-end MCAD product when I can use Inventor which offers us what we need to do our jobs at significantly less costs? For Credence, the opportunity to migrate to Inventor was an easy decision after we considered all the other options on the market today."

Today, we are using approximately 30 copies of Autodesk Inventor software. We have been impressed with the solid modeling capabilities of Inventor from the very beginning - even during alpha and beta testing. In addition, the support has been outstanding. McMullin says, "I can't name any other software company that has sent the same level of people to help us with their software. Ketiv, our reseller, has done a great job in technically supporting us; however, Autodesk has also been very active and available. In fact, at one point, we had a video card incompatibility with certain Hewlett-Packard machines and an older version of Inventor. Autodesk sent their best software development resources to solve the problem. While no piece of software is perfect, Autodesk continually asks us for input about what we'll need next."

Autodesk Inventor benefits
McMullin believes that Autodesk Inventor is the next generation MCAD product. "The technology makes a quantum leap above what other products offer," notes McMullin.

"Inventor's intuitiveness, ease of use, price, and solid modeler are all superior. There are other advantages, too. Whether we're considering our external customers or internal customers such as purchasing, accounting, and production - it's much easier to communicate our ideas in a real world representation of the proposed design.

"When we used 2D drawings to communicate, many of the non-technical people we work with weren't able to visualize the design concept and, consequently, were unable to provide meaningful input. All that's changed using Autodesk Inventor. It's amazing to see people's reaction to an assembly 3D solid model. All entities involved with product development can now interact with the model and provide much more meaningful feedback. We have a more involved product development team now. People are engaged with models and it's exciting to see and be a part of."

Those who assemble products can now use visual representations of how a product should be assembled using the design models Credence engineers created using Autodesk Inventor software. Now machine assembly is much more user friendly and as a result, productivity on the shop floor has improved. In addition, Credence is not generating as much assembly documentation. "We're not paperless yet, but Inventor is helping us toward that goal," notes McMullin.

Credence also uses Autodesk Inventor's engineer's notebook functionality, which allows users to capture important design intent as they work on designs. "Employee intellect is critically important to Credence. Therefore, the electronic recording of their knowledge and historical documentation of product development provides the most valuable inventory that the company possesses. That value is 100 times more important than whether we save two hours in the process of doing a drawing," sums up McMullin.

Author: Laura Carrabine

Home | Top of page | Front of MANAGING CAD/CAM/CAE section

Page last modified on November 10, 2000
Copyright 2000 by John Stark