Packaging defines products

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Last month I had the good fortune to have a lengthy chat with the leadership of the IEEE Components, Packaging and Manufacturing Technology (CPMT) Society during ECTC. Prof. Rao Tummala of Georgia Tech, the CPMT president, relayed an interesting thought to me. He said that semiconductor chips are becoming commodities, and the packaging is the value-added part of the product that differentiates it from others.

It is safe to say that most people in the industry have seen things the other way – the chip is the defining portion of the product and packaging is all the same. There is plenty of intellectual property in chip designs, but it really is the packaging that defines many products these days.

The best bit of evidence of this came recently with an announcement from Micron Technology. The large DRAM manufacturer introduced a new product line, and the focus of the announcement was the packaging. The product line was being provided in wafer-level chip scale packages, and that was the main thing that Micron wanted to say about its products. Other companies have highlighted the fact that they stack chips in their products. Again, packaging is what they are using to promote their products.

Perhaps this trend is a result of the relative maturity of chip manufacturing compared to packaging of those chips. Microprocessors, memory chips, DSPs and other integrated circuits have more than enough functionality for most applications these days. The most visible advances in electronics now come from getting these chips into places where they haven't been before – in portable devices, in standard household appliances, in every nook and cranny of your car, and even in the fabric of your clothes and inside your body. All of that comes with advances in packaging, and there is still plenty of that to come.

It's fun to think of the semiconductor industry being driven by the packaging end of it. If our sector is becoming the glamorous part of the field, then maybe the headlines, venture capital funds, and engineering talent that used to be in the wafer fab will now be headed our way. Maybe that is what will end up forcing the convergence of the front end and back end of the semiconductor world. All of the wafer-level packaging technologies being developed certainly are necessary for that, but the perception of packaging needs to change as well. With packaging grabbing the limelight more and more, it will be much easier for packaging to be taken seriously and the “ends” of the industry to merge.

Predictions are always a challenge, but I wouldn't want to bet against Prof. Tummala's thoughts on the future of packaging.

Thanks for reading,
Jeffrey C. Demmin
[email protected]


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