Vermont Firm Forges Precision Wafer Probes

March 15, 2007
The quiet country backdrop belies the high-quality yet practical wafer-probing technology being created at this innovative new company.

Tucked away in the Northern reaches of Vermont lies one of the best-kept secrets in the RF/microwave industry: SemiProbe LLC. Not far from the University of Vermont, and a mere 100 miles from Montreal, Canada, SemiProbe, and their partner company MPI, can already boast more than 800 wafer- and die-level semiconductor probe systems installed worldwide. SemiProbe, founded in early 2006, offers a wide range of DC/RF/microwave probe systems and accessories, including the innovative "Probe System For Life™" series of wafer-probing systems that the firm refers to as "the last probe system you will ever have to buy."

For a company with such a relatively short history, it has accomplished a great deal in terms of product development. Founded by Denis Place, Mostafa Daoudi, and Don Feuerstein, each with impressive track records in wafer-probing equipment design and development, the firm was established with the philosophy to create innovative solutions that were also economical to build, use, and maintain. The PS4L Probe System For Life™ is an example of that philosophy. It can be ordered as a simple "starter" manual probe station that meets even the tightest budgets, and then upgraded as requirements and budgets expand. The basic manual model can be upgraded to a motorized version, and further upgraded to a fully programmable system.

The PS4L (Fig. 1) is suitable for evaluating full semiconductor wafers (with stages that accommodate sizes of 2-, 4-, 6-, 8-, and 12-in. wafers) of virtually any semiconductor type (Si, GaAs, SiC, GaN, SiGe, etc.), portions of wafers, packaged devices, integrated circuits (ICs), and even microelectromechanical-systems (MEMS) devices. It provides the stability and capacity to handle probes operating from DC through 220 GHz and is easy to setup, service, and maintain. Options include a packaged part holder module, a thermal-probing module, and a module for handling small wafers or wafer fragments.

For semiautomatic testing applications, the company offers economical 150-, 200-, and 300-mm systems. The company has just introduced the SA-12 system for wafers up to 12 in. (300 mm). Designed to minimize expensive test space, the SA-12 measures a meager 36 X 16 X 36 in. (900 X 400 X 900 mm) and weighs a robust 440 lbs. (200 kg). The SA-12 (Fig. 2) provides full X-Y stage travel of 12 X 12 in. (310 X 310 mm) with maximum speed of 100 mm/s and positioning resolution of 1 µm. Across 300 mm of travel, the accuracy is ±8 µm with repeatability of ±4 µm across the same travel distance. The chuck provides 10 mm travel in the Zaxis with 1-µm positioning resolution and ±2.5-µm positioning repeatability. The system can be operated locally or remotely with an external personal computer (PC); remote-control options include TCP/IP, TTL, RS-232C, and GPIB interfaces.

For more modest requirements, the firm's model M-8 manual probing system can handle wafers as large as 8 in. across (200 mm) in an extremely compact footprint. The probe station is only 20 in. (500 mm) wide and 24 in. (595 mm) high with a depth of only 24 in. (600 mm). It weighs 145 lbs. to provide the needed stability for precision probing. The M-8 system offers full 8 8-in. X-Y travel, 10-mm Z-stage travel, and a linear platen lift. It features SemiProbe's "Rapid Release©" mechanism to quickly lift, reposition, and contact a probe to achieve fast motion across a wafer without tedious repetitive motion.

Of course, all of these precision wafer probe systems would not be complete if not outfitted with high-performance DC/RF/microwave probes, and SemiProbe works with one of the leading suppliers of high-frequency probes and test fixtures, GGB Industries (, Naples, FL), to offer customers testing solutions from DC to 110 GHz with coaxial connectors and through 325 GHz with WR-3 waveguide. The Picoprobe line of microwave probes (Fig. 3) from GGB Industries, for example, can be specified with integrated balanced-unbalanced (balun) transformers, for differential testing, as multicontact wedges, and as probe cards for evaluating complex ICs and devices. In addition, GGB, in business since 1980, offers a complete line of calibration substrates for setting up its probe heads.

Given its proximity to the University of Vermont, it is no surprise that SemiProbe extends a special offer to Universities and educators. The firm provides all Universities and institutions involved in training and education with a 10-percent discount on its products. Systems such as the PS4L Probe System For Life are well suited for university laboratories, giving them a chance to upgrade according to their own budget limitations. In addition, the company's University Referral Program allows any University customer who refers a friend or colleague to SemiProbe to receive "SemiProbe Bucks." These are essentially credits equivalent to 5 percent of the friend or colleague's purchase price, which can then be redeemed for SemiProbe products of the user's choice.

The fledgling company brings more than 50 years of combined test experience to the industry, but many fresh new ideas in terms of practical engineering and even sales. With probe stations that are built to last forever, this is a firm that truly wants to be "the last probe-station company you will ever need."

SemiProbe LLC, Farrell Hall, 210 Colchester Ave., Burlington, VT 05405-1757; (802) 860-7000, Internet:

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