10th Anniversary Insights
As semiconductor packaging and board assembly converge


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Throughout the electronics industry, new packaging technologies are driving changes in manufacturing. The drive to meet the needs of compact, lightweight products, such as cellular telephones, has resulted in packages that combine passive and active devices, analog and digital circuits, and even power components. This mixing of traditionally separate functions, and the ever-present packaging imperative – above all make it small – has lead to greater manufacturing challenges at every assembly level – wafer, component and board.

We see new package technologies driving a convergence between the back-end packaging of components and the front end of the assembly process. This dynamic process presents a problem of vision for today's electronics manufacturer, because the change has blurred conventional boundaries and distinctions. From a technical point of view, we lose the distinction between components and assemblies. From a business standpoint, the boundary between the supplier and the customer becomes less clear.

It is reasonable to assume that those boundaries will continue to blur until they are essentially gone.

What's in a Chip?

Not that long ago, it was clear that an assembly manufacturer specified and purchased components from a component vendor, then assembled them on a mother board. SMT manufacturers became very good at this, while component manufacturers learned how to manufacture vast quantities of sophisticated components so well that price became the most important specification.

As designers integrate analog and digital elements, or active and passive components into a single unit, component packaging becomes fluid – the form factor is driven by functionality. This is both good and difficult for manufacturers.

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Consider just the effects of radical component size reduction with no increase in complexity, as in the trend toward 0201-sized chip components and the inevitable move to 01005 components. Using these smaller components effectively has proven to be a difficult manufacturing task. Their size, and the drive to decrease component gaps, taxes current generations of automated handling equipment, such as placement machines. Printing of solder paste, adhesives, solder spheres, conductive epoxies, fluxes, underfill, thick film conductors or encapsulants must be both fast and extremely accurate. Yet the immense demand for smaller components for compact disk drives, palmtops, laptops, pagers and cell phones, easily outweighs any manufacturing problems their use creates. SMT manufacturers have had to adapt.

The emergence of totally new package configurations multiplies the manufacturing problems. Unlike traditional components, sophisticated leading-edge packages often have no standards for their physical design, size or pinout. So while nearly every aspect of SMT production has become highly standardized, there is nothing that says exactly how a flip chip or chip scale package (CSP) should be laid out – there is absolutely no standard for the package size. Whatever die size is needed for the components becomes the package size.

The Changing Game

Unfortunately, the rapid drive toward miniaturization pushes manufacturers into a dangerous game. So while new packages address the speed and functionality that the market demands of the new products, their very innovation complicates volume assembly onto final systems. This makes it difficult to satisfy the third important requirement of the products – lower cost. Viewed this way, their lack of standardization represents more than a simple manufacturing challenge, because if the manufacturing process cannot quickly adapt to a new package, the manufacturer will face delays in getting to market and therefore loss of early sales. In a market characterized by short life cycles, any delay in getting from design to market can be too much. If the end product can't be built rapidly, or if new package designs render the manufacturing equipment obsolete, the business won't be around too long.

The New Business

Clearly the successful manufacturer is going to be one who is flexible and able to quickly accommodate new package designs and effectively use existing capital equipment. Some manufacturers must begin to make custom “components” that suit their manufacturing systems and processes. It can cause traditional component manufacturers to delve into the world of assembly, as they mount passive and active elements onto substrates. Thus, an interesting byproduct of the new technologies is a restructuring of the supply chain, blurring the traditional borders between customers and suppliers. And there is a need for a new business model to meet the current conditions.

It used to be that vertically integrated companies were the ones best positioned to take advantage of market opportunities in electronics. Their enormous purchasing power and large R&D budgets ensured continuing success. But this is not the case anymore. This need to respond to the dynamics of market, packaging and manufacturing changes has some fundamental differences from the old model. Although the pattern is superficially the same – that device sizes continue to shrink, while the devices increase in complexity – now circuit designers are deeply involved in packaging issues.

The type of organization needed to deal with such a pressing need for manufacturing flexibility is one that is flat and focused, rather one that is vertically integrated. The flat and transparent organization is better able to deliver its enhanced knowledge to a wide base of business partners. It is less encumbered by inertia and therefore strategically better suited to survival in an industry that is characterized by rapid and continuous advances in core competence technologies.

Manufacturing is necessarily a partnership between the manufacturer and the manufacturing equipment vendors. An organization that works with business partners who can provide expertise where it counts most – at the constantly changing bridge between SMT and packaging – will be able to accept continuous change and innovation as the norm. Only such dynamic organizations will be able to work with, rather than against, the convergence of back-end component packaging and front-end assembly. AP

Richard Heimsch, president, can be contacted at DEK International GmbH, 8 Bartles Corner Road, Flemington, NJ 08822; 908-782-4140; Fax: 908-782-4774; E-mail: [email protected].


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