Micromanipulator Co. makes equipment to test semiconductors
The basic principles guiding The Micromanipulator Company in Carson City haven’t changed much since the company was founded more than 50 years ago.
The company, which came to Carson City about 30 years ago, makes tools designed to test semiconductors, the electronic roadways that make modern electronics such as cell phones, televisions and laptops possible. The semiconductor either conducts electricity or it doesn’t – something electronics makers need to know to ensure their product works before they package it.
“This company is providing the equipment to make sure their computer is going to run for six years instead of six days through reliability testing,” said Mike Jackson, the president of The Micromanipulator Company, 1555 Forrest Way in east Carson City. “Whenever they send a computer back to Dell, for instance, or if they have a car radio part that goes out back to Adelco, failure analysis is done on that and failure analysis is done with our tools.”
The company, founded in 1956 in Escondido, Calif., first started producing probes to test transistors that could be manipulated by cranking dials by hand. Today, the company is producing probing needles that have tips that can only be seen on the microscopic level.
That has meant developing remote controls and software controls that can now operate the machine without human supervision .
In order to test modern semiconductors, the company produces units that resemble a cross between a futuristic record player and an oversized microscope: Circular semiconductors are placed in the middle, the probing needle placed on top and the microscope used to ensure it’s in the right position.
“It got to the point where the movements were so small, if you touched the tool to move the probe it moved it more than you needed to,” Jackson said. For example, if the temperature of the lab where the semiconductor is being tested rises by a degree, the semiconductor will expand, leaving the probe off its mark. That’s why the company developed software to recognize patterns in the semiconductor, which looks like a city grid, so the probe never loses its place.
The company was endowed to the California Institute of Technology in 2001 and was sold to a venture capital firm in 2006. Jackson, who joined the company in 1988 as its director of sales and marketing, became its president in 2008.
Jackson said the failure analysis market, which Micromanipulator belongs to, generates about $1 billion annually and serves giants such as Intel, Sony and IBM. The technology that drives the company also has required rapid evolution as electronics continue to increase in power and shrink in size.
“It’s not something people normally see,” Jackson said. “We are a high performance electrical mechanical positioning company, basically we make equipment to move things in small increments.”
Jackson said the operation, which employs 15 people in Carson City and 150 worldwide, has increased its international presence in recent years.
“A lot more manufacturing is done over in Asia,” he said. “For us, Taiwan is probably the largest market after the United States.”
The international market amounts to about 40 percent of business for Micromanipulator, Jackson said, adding the company has produced seven new products since 2008.
“The whole industry is shipping up, if you will, in capability,” he said.