Agilent Corporation is a major producer of semiconductor test equipment.
Their leading-edge optoelectronic, mixed signal, and digital integrated
circuit technologies produce key building blocks for high-speed wired and
mobile networks. Agilent has the critical systems expertise needed to help
foundries succeed in an environment of relentless innovation, narrowing
market windows, and growing demands for speed, bandwidth, and affordability.
Let's explore one such example.
Agilent had been successfully selling and shipping its Model 4070
Parametric Tester to one of its major customers. This customer began
undertaking a strategic upgrade of its manufacturing operation and
Manufacturing Execution System (MES). This upgrade would allow them to
automate operation of tools in the fab and reduce operator intervention.
This required all equipment in the fab to have a common interface, thus
simplifying the communication needs of the MES. Accordingly, the customer
asked Agilent to implement the SEMI SECS/GEM standards on the 4070 tester.
The SECS/GEM interface specifies a framework for passing recipes, error
conditions, status, etc. For the SECS/GEM interface, Agilent chose an
off-the-shelf package from Hume Integration Software. Also required for the
4070 was a custom messaging scheme, or middleware, to pass and convert the
commands of the MES into tester specific actions. In other words, where a
user had been manually operating the equipment, now the middleware would
take command; exactly what the customer wanted. To provide this
sophisticated capability for the 4070, Agilent needed to develop software
that would integrate the SECS/GEM messaging schemes into the 4070 test shell
software. The test shell software, called SPECS, is what controls the
detailed operation of the 4070. Agilent embarked on this daunting
development task. The task was completed, after an undesirably lengthy
development cycle. The SECS/GEM implementation took place quickly. However,
the homegrown middleware proved to be very complex and inflexible. Defining
and maintaining the data structures was very time consuming. "It was like
designing one gigantic IF_THEN_ELSE statement" according to one of the
A Step Beyond
With foresight, Agilent realized that to implement this custom middleware
for the next customer would be just as complicated and time consuming. A
solution allowing a high-level approach was needed: a solution that
eliminated the need to deal in detailed message structures. This would allow
Agilent to develop the solution quickly and efficiently. Agilent found such
a solution from a single source. It is the Datahub SDK (Solution Development
by Hume Integration Software. This intelligent middleware offered a unique
set of capabilities perfectly suited to SECS/GEM automation challenges. Its
high level communication makes interface programming fast and flexible. It
utilizes an in-memory SQL database that is easily configurable. Access to
the data for all processes is by subscription, not polling. This assures
that processes obtain the information they need when they need it. This
intelligent data pipe eliminated the need for parsing and allows the
exchange of programming statements not binary message structures.
The implementation of the Hume middleware took a small fraction of the time
required for the discrete development. The ensuing application was delivered
quickly and its performance and reliability has been exemplary.