I want things to work the way they are supposed to – especially if it’s something important, like a car. I can imagine automotive electronics engineers must feel the same way about the chips they specify.
“I remember one day that a customer asked me, ‘What are you going to do to ship me zero defects,’” recalls James Williams, automotive development quality manager at Texas Instruments. “I nearly fell off my chair.”
In the early 1980s, when life was simpler, defective parts per-million rates were around 100, according to Williams. “You have to change your mindset to get to zero defects, from development concept down through production shipment, not just the product, but everything around the product, including the labeling on the product and the labeling on the boxes.”
Williams and those with similar responsibilities at other automotive semiconductor firms say that achieving zero defects required a change in corporate culture. “You have to walk through a systematic methodology and start forming an overall business process change,” Williams says. “We have to understand how the customer is using our product and then make sure we are testing the product accordingly. We have to make sure that our wafer fab processes, assembly processes, wafer testing, and packaging testing techniques incorporate the customer’s requirements – so we don’t allow any product to get out the door that’s not right.”
Integrated circuit reliability has improved dramatically. Infineon, for example, lowered its defect rate from 1.2 ppm in 2006 to 0.2 ppm in 2009. “A defect rate of 1 ppm in components becomes 300 ppm at the ECU level and 15,000 cars in every million (1.5%),” notes Elvira Palmeda, senior director of quality management at Infineon Technologies North America. “This is why zero defects is so important. A defect that might cost $10,000 to fix at the component supplier level, and $100,000 at the tier one level could easily cost $1 million at the final assembly level and $10 million at the customer level. From a business perspective, zero defects is a must.”