ECT/CheckSum Interview Questions: The Tilt Solution

 Gary St.Onge, Director of Engineering & Operations, ECT

Gary St.Onge, Director of Engineering & Operations, ECT

The Everett Charles Technologies (ECT) Test Fixture Group is the world’s leading manufacturer and customizer of fixtures for testing loaded printed circuit boards. ECT is a market leader and is known for its innovative solutions to test requirements. The Test Fixture Group has been awarded more than 20 patents for products and processes related to test fixturing. Now the company introduces its newest product innovation, a probe wireless fixture, designed with CheckSum, a leading provider of loaded circuit board test systems. Here we catch up with Gary St.Onge, Director of Engineering & Operations from ECT, to find out more about the new product and the role that both companies played in developing it.

According to our sources, ECT has co-developed a new ICT testing solution. What can you tell us about this new innovation?

Yes, we have developed a new Test Solution. ICT has been a cornerstone of electrical testing for the past several decades. However, there have been few, if any significant advances in this field over the past 20 years. ICT fixtures have steadily become more complex, which in turn increases the turnaround time and cost for the end user. Many companies have switched to using flying probers at NPI (new product introduction) for these reasons. The reality is that ICT, due to the high cost of test fixtures, cannot be justified for NPI or low-volume production in most cases.

The ECT engineering team has developed a new ICT fixture solution that is a) more accurate, b) significantly less expensive and c) can be manufactured in 2 to 3 days instead of 2 to 3 weeks. This is accomplished by eliminating the wires in the test fixture and using the proven technology of ECT’s ValuGrid® fixtures. These fixtures have tested billions of bare boards and our engineers leveraged this technology to meet the needs of the loaded board test market.

We understand that ECT partnered with CheckSum to create this new product. Why was CheckSum chosen? What technology did this company provide?

Yes, we have partnered with CheckSum because we needed robust pin electronics with high node count capability and, most importantly, a non-multiplexed pin architecture. The partnership has been very beneficial. As our partnership has developed, we also have added CheckSum’s MultiWriter On-Board Programming technology to the tester.

Has ECT worked with CheckSum in the past?

ECT and CheckSum have worked together as suppliers to each other but this partnership is new.

Do you see the relationship between the two companies expanding, possibly to include working on future collaborations?

The partnership has worked very well thus far and it is certainly a possibility that we will extend the partnership to some new collaborations.

What is Tilt Probe technology?

It is actually Tilt “Fixture” Technology. Mechanically, the fixture consists of accurately positioned horizontal plates with holes drilled in each layer to guide the Tilt Pins (thin solid pins) so that they contact the test point on the UUT and the appropriate tester resource via the probe field. Unique and proprietary software determines the connections and calculates the locations of the holes to be drilled into each plate. While most Tilt Pins are vertical or quite close to vertical, holes can be drilled in the various layers to guide the Tilt Pin on an angled path. This is done to facilitate hitting test points on a fine pitch or to access tester resources that are not located directly beneath the test point.

The pointing accuracy is extremely accurate and allows us to also contact 15 ml targets on 24 ml spacing. This is significant because it cannot be done on any other in-circuit tester.

What makes the Tilt solution different from other ICT systems? What are the main benefits that it brings to users?

Tilt provides three key and distinct benefits: 1) Faster fixture turnaround time, 2) the ability to hit targets down to 15 ml on 24 ml centers and 3) fixture costs that are 60-70 percent lower cost than traditional ICT fixtures. These unique benefits generate tremendous value and make it practical to use Tilt for NPI and low-volume production. An additional benefit is that Tilt offers the test coverage and speed of ICT to a market currently serviced by flying probers.

How does this new innovation solve cost and throughput challenges for ICT?

While the cost of an ICT system is much higher than an individual fixture, over time, the cumulative fixture costs are many times higher than the purchase price of the tester. So, reducing fixture cost by 60-70 percent is a revolutionary proposition.

Unfortunately for many low-volume and NPI manufacturers, the cost of an ICT fixture is prohibitive on most projects, given the low number of units produced or short period of time the product design may be fixed. For these projects, the manufacturers are left with a poor set of choices: rely on functional test and pay for an army of technicians to debug failed boards or buy an expensive flying probe system. For many, the flying probe has become the solution. While flying probe systems do provide a base level of test coverage, they cannot match ICT test coverage. And, though they appear to be “fast,” flying probe systems are extremely slow when compared to ICT. So as more and more projects are shifted to the flying probe, their limited throughput quickly becomes a bottleneck.

Does it help eliminate bottlenecks at test? How so?

The overuse of flying probe systems for low to medium production boards is prone to creating bottlenecks. Tilt has the throughput of traditional ICT, but with quick turn fixtures to match the requirement of NPI. In a low to medium production environment, one Tilt system can have the throughput of 5-10 flying probe systems. Also, Tilt does not have the maintenance issues and costs associated with the moving parts in a flying probe.

How do you envision the Tilt expanding in the future?

During development, we have designed options that will allow users to expand coverage beyond basic ICT. Power-on functional test, boundary scan, on-board programming and even use of third-party external instruments all are possible. Customers may start with these test technologies or add them after production is stable.

Over time, we believe users will begin to consider trading in their “Big Iron” ICT system for Tilt due to the quick turn, low-cost fixtures.

What far-reaching advantages will this type of solution bring to the industry now and into the future?

Ultimately, we envision that the Tilt Technology will help our customers more quickly develop and successfully test their products. We believe that the reduced cost of fixturing will provide our customers with additional budget to be used on technologies that improve test coverage on their critical projects.