Discrete Failure Analysis

Overview

Though perhaps not as glamorous as highly integrated microprocessors or specialized ASICs, discrete components - thin-film resistors, chip capacitors, individual transistors, and so on - are still a vital part of modern electronics. A failing bipolar transistor or shorted capacitor can be just as catastrophic as a malfunctioning IC; fortunately, the tools and techniques of IC failure analysis are equally applicable to FA of discrete components.

Fundamentals

Discrete component failure analysis follows much the same path as an integrated circuit FA; indeed, analysis of a bipolar transistor or power MOSFET uses exactly the same tools, techniques, and procedures as more complex IC FA projects. Analysis of discrete components begins with non-destructive testing, where tools like x-ray imaging and acoustic microscopy are used to examine the device under test for damage or anomalous processing - for example, cracking in a ceramic capacitor, or irregularities in the laser trim on a precision metal film resistor. Next comes fault verification, where an analyst confirms that the reported problem - for example, a short circuit - is still present. After confirming the failure, the analyst applies a variety of different tools to preform fault isolation, identifying the most likely location of the defect. Depending on the type of device and the defect in question, different tools might be used. For example, thermal imaging is commonly used on leaky capacitors or thin film resistors with anomalous values (either too high or too low of a resistance value may be the result of a defect that will emit heat when biased), while photoemission microscopy (PEM) often reveals defects on semiconductor-based discrete devices. Finally, destructive analysis and documentation wraps everything up neatly: protective coatings or passivation layers are stripped away, the defect is photographed in all its glory, and the root cause of the failure is identified.

Sample types

From thermistors to capacitors, LEDs to FETs, and all points between, IAL’s failure analysis expertise extends to all varieties of discrete components. Our suite of test equipment and preparation tools is adaptable across any range of different samples; regardless of your product, be confident that IAL has applicable experience and can successfully identify the source of your troubles.

Applications

  • Determining root cause of insufficient light output of LEDs
  • Analyzing out-of-spec passives to determine lot disposition
  • Post-mortem analysis of power semiconductor devices - MOSFETs, IGBTs, and others

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