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An introduction to burn-in testing

11 Nov 2014  | Mayank Parasrampuria, Sandeep Jain

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Burn-in testing is the process by which we identify early failures in components, thereby increasing component reliability. In the semiconductor world, this means taking us closer to zero DPPM. During burn-in, the component is exercised under extreme operating conditions (elevated temperatures and voltages). This stresses the component under test and eliminates the "weak" population from the product prior to customer delivery.

Burn-in testing attempts to weed out failures from stage 1 of the "bathtub" curve for reliability of electronics equipment, which gives the failure rate vs. time plot of electronic components.



This curve has three stages:

Stage 1: Infant Mortality/Early Life – This is the period were early failures show up in a component. These are due to lack of control in manufacturing processes at the molecular level. During this period components fail at a high rate but this rate decreases with time. (Curve in blue shows failure rate due to early fails)

Stage 2: Normal/Useful Life – This is the period where rate of failure is nearly constant, and due to randomly occurring faults. (shown with green curve)

Stage 3: Wear Out/End of Life – Period marked by increase in failure rate due to ageing of components; this period marks the end of the useful life span of a device. These fails are due to critical paths in the device getting worn out. (Curve in red shows failure rate due to ageing).



Performing burn-in reduces the total life span of a device as shown in the below curve, but it has no impact on the useful life (Stage 2) of a device.


Advantages
 • Delivered product has higher reliability. Fewer customer returns.
 • Ability to estimate the product's useful life period.


Disadvantages
 • Higher cost (Burn-in boards degrade over time and must be replaced).
 • Mechanical and EOS/ESD damage to parts.
 • Non-uniform distribution of stress on device (Inability to put 100% of the device under stress).
 • Efficiency of Burn-in test impacted by voltage scaling and power consumption.


Faults detected
Burn-in testing detects faults that are generally due to imperfections in manufacturing and packaging processes, which are becoming more common with the increasing circuit complexity and aggressive technology scaling. Traditional stuck-at testing does not detect these types of faults because they may be dormant and need to be stressed to manifest as "fails" (during burn-in).

The root cause of fails detected during burn-in testing can be identified as dielectric failures, conductor failures, metallisation failures, electromigration, mouse-bites, etc. These faults are dormant and randomly manifest into device failures during device life-cycle. With burn-in testing, we stress the device, accelerating these dormant faults to manifest as failures.


Types of burn-in test
Static Burn-in: In this we apply extreme voltages and temperatures to each device without operating or exercising the device. The advantages of static burn-in are its low cost and simplicity. A major limitation of static burn-in however, is that it exercises fewer than half the circuit nodes on a device.

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