Patrick Sullivan, CTO & Founder and David Kenyon, CEO & President
“Oblivious to every other trade, and master of one.”—This play on the phrase ‘jack of all trades,’ aptly describes ElevATE Semiconductor, a developer of automated test equipment ICs (ATE).
So keyed-in it is on that one trade, the one area of expertise, ElevATE outsources nearly every other organizational function—HR, legal, manufacturing, and finance—just so it can channel all its efforts to the design, sales, support, and quality of its future-ready, multi-faceted ATE product line. “ElevATE is the only solution provider in the semiconductor industry that is dedicated to ATE. We do not dabble in any other businesses, and our customers appreciate our single-point focus to delivering custom-built ATE ICs and solutions,” says David Kenyon, CEO and president, ElevATE.
The approach is vastly different from multi-billion dollar semiconductor corporations that shelve ATE as a subdivision in the company since their total addressable market (TAM) includes multiple opportunities within the semiconductor industry. As a result, they continue to develop ATE products—or integrated circuit (IC) solutions for pin electronics (PE)—that do not cater to today’s heightened testing requirements.
For example, to test a cutting-edge modern chip—with up to 5,000 processors—testers endure a lengthy process of shutting down parts of the chip and testing only a few segments at once. Why? The legacy ATE is unable to supply the requisite power, density, and voltage to test the chip in its entirety. Furthermore, the chipsets include a number of technologies (bipolar, SiGeBiCMOS) that are packaged separately, leading to ATE solutions that take up a significant portion of board space, not to mention the considerable amount of power dissipation and cost. These challenges have led to limitations in the board size of a channel and the number of devices that can be tested in parallel, which ultimately impacts the cost to test each device.
Against this backdrop, testing firms are in dire need of ATE solutions that can reduce the cost-per-channel and physical board size-per-channel, especially with new industry applications—such as IoT sensors—that are changing the demands on test technology. Similarly, to test the latest automotive applications, testers must be equipped to deliver higher voltages, flexible monitoring configurations, and multi-mode operation (high speed, voltage/low power).
CMOS Technology at the Core
This is precisely where ElevATE, which essentially designs chips that get embedded into testers that test other chips, addresses a critical market need. Rather than relying on the longstanding bipolar technology— ill-equipped to meet modern testing requirements—ElevATE develops its ATE solutions with mixed-signal CMOS technology, which offers a number of noteworthy advantages. Courtesy of CMOS technology, ElevATE’s products provide an increase in channel density, from two channels per chip to eight channels per chip, and up to four times reduction in per channel power dissipation. Furthermore, since CMOS designs can be ported to smaller geometry nodes, it facilitates a further reduction in development and production costs.
ElevATE’s digital product line falls into three specific categories: a digital pin that directs signals to the single device-under-test (DUT), a comparator that examines signals returning from the DUT, and a parametric measurement unit (PMU) that measures continuity and actual performance, both in voltage and current domain.
Also, ElevATE can integrate timing for deskewing; the capability to incorporate timing for dynamic vernier performance.
The heart of the one of ElevATE’s products is a full-timing generator with the dynamic placement of edges, consisting of 10 picosecond linearities and 10 picosecond resolution in the pin—integrating all of these into a single chip. “We have revolutionized semiconductor test, integrating an entire tester channel into just one chip, giving our customers the flexibility to design just one circuit/board to test multiple products,” stresses Patrick Sullivan, founder and CTO of ElevATE.
The other products—offered by ElevATE—are focused on V/I functions as customers demand high-density standalone V/Is to measure and enforce precise currents and voltages. It acts as a resource in the tester to be used and switched into various pins. In addition, ElevATE offers high-density, configurable device power supply (DPS)— hundreds of amps of current in multiple cores to increase flexibility, decrease the testing time—be it for a variety of power supply applications.
Crucially, ElevATE’s solutions allow for standalone analog blocks and easily-configurable IP cores to be integrated into any concerned application. For example, ElevATE’s Europa (ISL55180) is a highly integrated System-on-a-Chip (SOC) DUT power supply solution that incorporates up to eight independent DUT DPS units. Meanwhile, the Kilimanjaro, a dual-channel pin electronics driver, and window comparator is designed specifically for Test During Burn-In (TDBI) applications and low-cost testers, where cost, functional density, and power are at a premium.
While customers can procure such off-the-shelf products from across the world, ElevATE takes pride in developing tailored solutions to meet every possible industrial application in the ATE landscape. For instance, one of ElevATE’s customers, a manufacturer of industrial air-cooled systems, required a high-density digital solution with only 200kW of power at disposal. ElevATE answered the bell by integrating the client’s RTL into its chip, developing a universal chip for eight channels, with dynamic timing. The result was a full tester with eight channels on a chip, at half-a-watt per channel, enabling the customer to provide a 192-channel solution with incredible density.
Longer Shelf Life for Strong Customer Ties
Such success stories facilitate the creation of long-term relationships between ElevATE and its customers, spread across 17 countries. The need for such enduring ties is all the more critical since ATE solutions require a long shelf life of at least 10-12 years.
ElevATE’s clientele is as diverse as the company itself. Its customers range all the way from the world’s largest tester manufacturers, to in-house chip designers who are unable to afford expensive ATE and require a customized test solution.
In developing such customized solutions, ElevATE pays close heed to the inputs offered by clients and often suggests and integrates features without levying additional charges. While in some cases, clients prefer a proprietary design, for which ElevATE signs an NDA, there are other instances when ElevATE develops fully-customized solutions through a signed NRE. “Through the entire process of designing a chip, we have a team of
application engineers who work alongside the customer, review schematics, layouts of the circuit and provide feedback at every stage. It is vital that we spend adequate time with the clients, ensuring accurate and appropriate design and faster time-to-market for them,” explains Sullivan.
Post deployment, ElevATE supports clients to debug whatever system-level issues they may encounter.
ElevATE’s ability to engage clients and win their trust is, in many ways, tied into its technological expertise. As Sullivan proudly notes, Team ElevATE has “more combined ATE experience than the rest of its competitors, combined,”—a market edge that has uniquely positioned it to meet the requirements of today’s semiconductor applications, at an economical price point. Founded in 2012, ElevATE—which has an ATE background dating back to the early 1990s—is the assemblage of former core members of Intersil’s ATE product line.
This ATE expertise was further bolstered when the new CEO Kenyon joined the organization a little over a year ago. Kenyon’s arrival coincided with a sizeable investment from a private equity firm, which has given ElevATE financial security and working capital for the foreseeable future. Sullivan says that the investment has positioned ElevATE as “a strong, long-term player in the ATE landscape,” putting them on equal footing with the bigger semiconductor firms.
Upon joining the company, Kenyon also noticed that ElevATE’s competent team of developers, designers, and quality analysts have the unique ability to blend the level of product quality offered by the bigger organizations with the heightened degree of innovation associated with smaller firms. Having held critical positions at corporations such as AMD and Sun Microsystems, Kenyon has seen the best of both worlds. “What impressed me the most was ElevATE’s superior quality of products without compromising on innovation,” he recalls.
Also, Kenyon’s arrival has allowed Sullivan to shift to a CTO role, giving the founder the desired freedom to focus on the technical aspects rather than promoting the business. Sullivan calls Kenyon “a natural leader” who has effortlessly taken charge of ElevATE’s business operations, allowing him to return to his roots and focus on technology innovations.
Smart Cities Are Here, and so Is ElevATE
A future with smart cities and autonomous vehicles isn’t possible without the addition of billions of sensors and ICs, developed at significantly lower costs. Additionally, the influx of 5G technology and new innovations from Google and Amazon with regard to AI processors only heighten the need for the placement of more channels and circuits on chips.
"We do not dabble in any other businesses, and our customers appreciate our single-point focus to delivering custom-built ATE solutions"
Although a large share of ElevATE’s customers hails from the automotive and aeronautical sectors, the company expects to address a number of other industries, as and when its solutions can increase its voltage and current capacity. In March 2020, ElevATE will release “the world’s highest voltage part” to be embedded into a tester, another example of ElevATE charting the course for its customers’ next-generation test requirements.
On a closing note, Sullivan and Kenyon offer powerful one-liners to give a peek into the future of ElevATE. “It’s very exciting for me, as the founder, to finally be at a point where we have adequate financial backing, incredible technology, and designers, and a leader (in Kenyon) to help us become the go-to ATE supplier in the industry,” says Sullivan.
Kenyon concludes, “Our tagline is powering the next generation of semiconductor tests. As we move toward a future where development/testing cycles will occur at breakneck speed, we are fantastically positioned to serve our customers and their future needs. We are serving the needs of the next 10-15 years, and not the years that preceded us, unlike our competitors.”