Technology is integral to powering and protecting our planet, particularly when it comes to converting renewable energy and paving the way for a cleaner, greener and safer future. ipTEST is leading the way in this field. The company develops unique high-speed electrical testers for power semiconductor devices, which are used for anything to do with power conversion, including electric vehicles, and solar and wind energy.
Managing director Conor McCarthy explains that power semiconductors are essential to converting energy both on and off the electric grid. The technology, he says, has been based on silicon for decades, but recently, new technologies, known as wide bandgap semiconductors, have revolutionised the market, allowing for faster and more efficient performance of devices. This, for example, results in quicker charging for electric vehicles.
These new devices, however, are much more difficult to test. ipTEST has taken on this challenge by developing a new range of high-speed, high-accuracy testers called Mostrak-2. “These test generators are specifically designed to meet the much higher demands of wide bandgap technologies and allow our customers to push the boundaries of electric vehicle performance,” says Conor. “To make this possible, we have had to innovate – looking at how we design our testers. We switched to a much more modular approach and utilised state-of-the-art processers, semiconductor chips and printed circuit board designs.”
ipTEST was founded in 2006 and has been growing steadily ever since. As a global supplier, it has to continually evolve its technologies to serve its rapidly increasing customer base. To keep up with demand, in July 2021, ipTEST relocated to Surrey Research Park in Guildford, which offers the space, facilities, equipment and access to engineering talent that is needed to research and develop new products – faster and more powerful testers.
Being based at the park has quickly become part of ipTEST’s identity. The firm is passionate about growing its team. To attract the best engineers, it has made collaborating with students at the University of Surrey, as well as other Universities across the country, a key focus.
Alongside offering summer internships, over the past year, ipTEST has hosted open days and guest lectured for the University of Surrey’s engineering courses to expose students to real-world applications within the sector. Its recent IKEEP project, organised by the SETsquared Partnership, helped several students develop a greater understanding of the semiconductor industry by identifying and analysing risks in the UK supply chain. The project was a great success, providing a tangible outlook and results that ipTEST was able to use and analyse.
From people to processes, the company has also been investing significantly in new, advanced equipment and facilities. Conor explains: “As our testers are capable of measuring the smallest currents (down to nano-Amps), we need to ensure our production environment has the lowest humidity. To offset this, we have invested in a state-of-the-art industrial de-humidifier, which can bring the humidity in our manufacturing area down below 20% and maintain that throughout the day.”
It hasn’t always been plain sailing though. In terms of business challenges, the biggest issue ipTEST has faced has been shortages of specialist electronics components within its supply chain. “Lead times and costs have significantly increased compared to previous years,” Conor points out.
To overcome this, the team have worked hard to cultivate local UK supply partners. “We work closely with them to develop solutions to the shortages, including redesign, finding alternatives or even building items in-house. Having an ecosystem of suppliers who are local means we can interact in a much more collaborative fashion and be more reactive to supply chain shocks, which have become the norm since Covid. Moving forward, these suppliers will support the ongoing expansion of our capacity.”
It has been an exciting year for ipTEST. Backed by shareholders, the business has been able to invest significantly in its operational capabilities. As the global semiconductor industry poises itself for a decade of robust growth, ipTEST’s technologies will be at the forefront of innovation.