Benefits of automated curve tracing compared to manual curve tracing.

What’s the difference?

Automated curve tracing is characterized by the combination of curve tracing capable SMU sources and a switch matrix under software control. Manual curve tracing is a curve tracer or SMU supply, and a switch matrix under manual control. Sometimes there is not even a switch matrix and the probes are set onto the pins by hand.

Manual curve tracing is still around but…

manual curve trace system with switch box and Tektronix

RTI switch box with R1 DUT board and Tektronix system

Manual curve tracers, especially older Tektronix, still have utility in the FA lab, but for a different reason. These models offer high voltages for leakage and breakdown testing and high currents for testing power-hungry semiconductors. However, most IC devices operate below 20V and many below 5V. These low voltage devices do not need the high power these types of manual curve tracers provide. These manual curve tracers are best suited for discrete components such as transistors, diodes, SCRs, and other high voltage devices found in the SMPS power supply controller and automotive industries.

Manual limitations

Manual switch box with test fixture

Manual curve tracing has been a viable diagnostic and test method since there have been electronics and is often used in failure analysis applications, even today. The relatively low cost of adoption also comes with longer setup times and limited utility when compared to an automated alternative. Basic applications, such as unpowered curve tracing, are commonly used with manual setups. More complex curve tracing applications, such as powered curve tracing and latch-up, are less suitable for manual methods due to the additional effort required in setting up and performing tests.

Cut time from minutes to seconds with curve trace software

MTForms Classic

MultiTrace Software automates all setup tasks. When equipped with a DUT board and socket along with configuration files, the effort to set up and run an unpowered curve trace on a 20 pin QFN is virtually the same as a 768 pin BGA device thanks to MultiTrace Software. The rapid switching and plotting of each test point are accomplished in a fraction of the time it takes to manually switch between inputs. This allows devices with a handful of pins to be plotted in seconds and hundreds of pins to be plotted in just a few minutes. With auto comparison, finding the failed pins can be equally fast for low and high pin counts.

Automated curve tracing is repeatable and reliable

automated curve tracing system

Open-box of MultiTrace

A 6-bus MultiTrace has 6 channels of switch matrixes, all backed up with precision SMUs. This allows the quick and repeatable setup of powered curve tracing test conditions for devices with up to 4 different voltage domains. Although some effort in interpreting test conditions from the datasheet is required; the time to acquire data is equally fast to analyze when compared to the unpowered curve trace. MultiTrace Software offers multiple ways to sort pins and develop test conditions, all without coding experience required.

Collect data swiftly and easily

automated curve tracing software tool: powered curve trace

Powered curve trace screenshot

The results of a powered curve trace using MultiTrace Software tools can reveal many things. The graph can show each IV trace, IDD1 to IDD4 traces, and ground current times of each I/O pin on the device. The operator can easily display some or all of the data and focus on the traces and curves that show anomalies. Analysts can then use the results to gather evidence and localize failure(s) on the device.

While automated curve tracers offer unlimited graphing possibilities and a wide range of data collection, it is possible to collect data on a manual setup but unadvisable due to a cumbersome deployment. Manual curve tracers require additional bench space and wiring for multiple external power supplies, externally wired connections, and even then, the results will only show the IV curve just for one pin. All IDD data would be displayed on a DMM connected somewhere between the supply and the DUT (if there is a DUT).

Automate setup and configurations

The heart of any scientific test is the ability to repeat the test and get the same results. Automation eliminates user error when reconfiguring controls with saved settings. The ability to save, import, and compare results prove ease of repeatability and enable test setups and results to be shared between related labs with a global reach.

MultiTrace Software has a range of methods to create and save test conditions. When it comes time to change or swap test conditions for a different measurement, the change only takes seconds as opposed to a teardown and reconfiguration of a manual switch box.

Some people mistakenly think switching to optical fault localization methods requires abandoning the automated setup in favor of a manual one. The MultiTrace is just as useful as a bias source for optical fault localization as it is for bench-top characterization. RTI supports a wide range of low-profile physical fixtures, test sockets, and DUT boards enabling failure analysis on any device during fault localization. Whether it is emission microscopy, lock-on thermography, liquid crystal, optical inspection, laser scanning microscopy, EBIC, or any other methods used by failure analysts, automated setup and execution of curve trace tests is a significant advantage and time saver.

Upgrading from manual to automated curve tracing is simple with RTI

Manual switch box and an overlay panel

If automation does not fit your current budget but is a prospect in the future, RTI can help. RTI provides both manual and automated curve tracing setups.

RTI’s 96 channel switch box is a great manual curve trace solution as it is capable of both powered and unpowered curve tracing. It can join in parallel or series to emulate most automated setups with some effort. RTI offers overlay panels and other accessories to optimize the efficiency of these tools. The overlay panel speeds up the operator’s ability to locate specific switches associated with a pin of interest.

Upgrading from RTI’s manual switch box to the automated MT Century is easy. Both systems use the same type of DUT boards and cables so upgrading from manual to automatic does not require an adapter or redesigning existing DUT boards. Simply transfer from one system to the other and begin automating your configurations and setups.

For technical questions about RTI’s curve tracers, please email us at or call at 1-408-779-8008.