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Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Tale from the Silicon Swamp

Manufacturing and commercial monopolies owe their origin not to a tendency imminent in a capitalist economy but to governmental interventionist policy directed against free trade and laissez faire.

I graciously extend my sincerest wish that you have nothing short of an extremely fabulous day my friend.  However, the caveat being that my wish alone cannot make my desire come true.  Be positive, keep positive, to make positive.

Yes.  This is a swamp.  This is Florida.  We have many.

Chucky wants to go down Memory Lane today.  Many, many moons ago when Chucky graduated school and took his first job in high-tech manufacturing he was eager and gun-ho to make nothing short of favorable impressions.  My first “real” job dealt with the manufacture of integrated circuits (“computer chips”) in what we affectionately called “The Silicon Swamp” (Melbourne/Palm Bay, Florida).  We who produced world class I.C.’s in Florida considered our Florida location to be as good, if not superior, to our counterparts in “The Silicon Valley” (San Jose, California).  You literally drove your car for miles and miles through prime Florida swamp land (through the Deseret Ranch in Florida) to arrive at this high-tech mecca where I.C.’s were being made.

Anywho… Without going into too much detail my job was basically supporting the entire manufacture process of these computer chips.  In the early years, the better part of my day was spent in the midst of the humongous I.C. test area ("Test Floor").  Imagine an enormous building where literally hundreds of machines and employees were electronically testing countless bins of computer chips.  Now imagine Chucky standing in the midst of this organized havoc ready to test a specially selected box of engineering prototype chips.

Integrated circuit (die and bonding)

If you ever thought that I was proud of my Hollywood movies, you have not seen anything my friend!  I was young, on top of the World, thought that I knew everything, and certainly knew that I would conquer and impress all who crossed my path.  If I only had a cape and some additional super powers back then, huh?

My job this day was to test a production lot of military grade integrated circuits.  They had to be subjected to and pass electronic testing at three temperature extremes:  -55oC “low temp”, +25oC (“room temp”) and +125oC (“high temp”).  The success or failure of my task this day would be scrutinized and measured by my peers and management.  I wanted to have absolute flawless success!  I could accept nothing short of a spectacular performance.  Second best just wouldn’t do.

I was a smart punk kid.  I knew the logical testing succession was low temp and then high temp to dry out any moisture from the test chamber.  After both temperature extremes I would be required to open up the electronic chamber and allow it to cool to room temperature before completing my daily task.

In accordance with binding military specification requirement; at each task along the way I summoned an authorized (certified) Calibration technician who calibrates and certifies the machine accuracy.  As duly noted by their signature and stamp on the processing document, I have met environmental calibration requirements before proceeding with my electronic tests.  I would be thorough, meticulous, and precise in adhering to all military requirements & standards.  No-one would meet a military firing squad on my watch!

I stood tall.  I stood proud.  And I stood 4-foot that day standing beside my test station screening the devices!  My dagger was safely tucked in the back pocket of my overalls as I proudly commenced forward through my testing.

The calibration process was simple really.  I walk into the Calibration Lab that was adjacent to the Test Floor.  I walked up to a huge white board, picked up a marker, and signed my name, the workstation number that I was at, the current time and the temperature that I requested to be calibrated.

So… Initially, I walked into the “Cal Lab” and wrote “Chucky, Station ABC, 10:05 AM, -55oC” on that big overwhelming white board.  I walked out to the test station and stood there awaiting the Calibration Tech’s arrival.  Within a few reasonable moments, they arrived.  We exchanged pleasantries and I introduced myself as “one of the new guys”.  “I work for John Doe upstairs.  I work in the Engineering department.”, etc.  They inserted their calibrated measurement equipment into the environmental test chamber, waited the allotted period of time, confirmed that I was good-to-go, and certified my processing document.  I was, indeed, in high heaven.  I then proceeded to test all devices until done.

An hour or so later (I cannot recall exact times) I was complete.  Time to crank that chamber up to +125oC.  Once the equipment was up to the desired temperature, I again walked into the Cal Lab and re-signed the behemothic white board, “Chucky, Station ABC, 1:15 PM, +125oC”.  Again… I waited.  Again… Someone soon arrived, ran the calibration measurements, provided their blessings and let me get back to my certified testing.

Wow!  Chucky is kicking it!  One more test iteration and I can go back upstairs to my office and rejoice.  Having subsequently tested many, many more production lots during my lengthy Silicon Swamp career I can clearly remember that it took MUCH more time to bring the test chamber down from +125oC to +25oC than it did to dry it out (-55oC to +125oC).  For the sake of my tiresome story, let’s say that it took only an hour to get that machine down to +25oC.

Oh yeah!  The environmental chamber had a nickname.  In the Engineering department we affectionately referred to the Daymarc tester as a “R2D2”.  It had a very strong resemblance to R2D2 of Star Wars movie fame, only much bigger.  Sorry... I was unable to find an image of the Daymarc 4100.

This is the R2D2 and not the Daymarc.

I walked into the Cal Lab and promptly wrote “Chucky, Station ABC, 3:15 PM, +25oC” on that imposing white board.  Again, I walked back out into the Test Floor and waited.  I waited.  I waited.  And I waited.  What gives here?  Where IS the calibration technician?

I walked back into the Cal Lab and found that my entry had been erased!  Being of acute intelligence I quickly deducted that someone must have erased it by accident thinking that it had already been handled.  So… I, again, recorded “Chucky, Station ABC, 3:15 PM, +25oC” on that board.

Back at Test Station ABC I waited and waited and waited.  What the heck is going on here???  Believe me you… Chucky was getting frustrated.  I haven’t got all day guys!

So… I walked back into the Cal Lab.  Guess what?  Yes… You guessed it.  Someone had erased my request once AGAIN.  This time I wasn’t going to go easily.  For a third and obviously more notable demanding time I wrote “CHUCKY, STATION ABC, 3:15 PM, +25oC” on that d#$%^@ white board!

No!  This is not good enough.  I waited until the first sign of life entered into the Cal Lab and promptly informed the tech while pointing to my latest white board entry, “What’s going on here?  This is the third time that I’ve come in here and had to make my request.  I’ve been waiting since 3:15 PM and really need to get my testing done.”  The tech had an initial look of shock on their face, walked over to the white board, erased my entry and asked, “So… You’re Chucky?”

Yes I am.

“You’re new here, right?”

Yes.  I started a few weeks ago.

“Hang on just a second Chucky.  Okay?”

This is good, I thought to myself.  He has gone to get his supervisor.

A second or two later the tech returns with another Cal Lab team member by his side.  Tech One looks at Tech Two and explains “This is Chucky.   He’s new here and started a week or so ago.”  “Remember those +25oC calibration requests on the white board?”  “It was Chucky who was writing them.”

I was really feeling good.  Finally!  My requests are getting heard and getting some prompt attention.

Tech Two looks at me and sympathetically asks, “So Chucky, you want a +25oC calibration at Station ABC.  Right?”

Right!”  My little plastic eyeballs were probably gleaming bright.

“+25oC.”  “Right?”

Yes.”  “Thanks!

Well you’ll have to close your eyes and simply imagine my demeanor when Tech Two takes his index finger, sticks it quickly in his mouth, holds it up highly in the air and says to me… “Yep, Chucky.”  “It’s frickin’ (word substitute) in here dude.”

As I was standing proudly outside on the Test Floor by Station ABC awaiting my room temperature calibration there were several technicians inside the Call Lab wondering just who is the smart-arse who keeps writing “Chucky, Station ABC, 3:15 PM, +25oC” on the white board.  It wasn’t funny and was beginning to get really old!

I may not remember much from those Silicon Swamp days many, many moons ago.  But, I can assure you that I never again asked for test equipment calibration for room temperature (+25oC) testing!

What is your "I will never forget" story? 

Hi-dee hi-dee if-you-can't-laugh-at-yourself-then-you-need-to-loosen-up-ho my friend?

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