Materials Science to the Rescue

When asked to put together a presentation recently, I forced myself to take a close look at the latest version of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS). This document seems to be the primary coordinating document for the semiconductor industry, and while it is constantly referred to in the front end of the industry, it rarely gets mentioned in the packaging world.

The presentation was for the IMAPS New England Chapter Annual Meeting, and I thought that the ITRS might provide some insight into where the future opportunities are for packaging companies. I actually was right … and the answer is in materials.

The ITRS lists five “assembly and packaging difficult challenges through 2007,” and four of them are focused on materials. They are: improved organic substrates, improved underfill, coordinated design tools, packaging of Cu/low-k chips, and Pb-, Sb- and Br-free packaging. Everything there except the design tools is a material problem. You could argue that Cu/low-k solutions are in equipment and the process, but a big part of it is materials. (See this month's news section for an update on the topic from IITC.) Let's say that half of that one is a materials problem, putting 70 percent of the key challenges in the materials realm.

This was a revelation to me. From my perch in the industry, I hear a lot about equipment and logistical or business issues, but developments in materials for packaging make up a fairly small fraction of the news in the industry, especially if you exclude the single topic of lead-free concerns. I don't think that I have this impression because of any viewpoint skewed away from materials – rumor has it when I last attended school, I was studying materials science.

Perhaps materials don't grab the headlines because often they are proprietary. Perhaps the material suppliers serve many industries, so they don't obsess about public relations in any one of them. Perhaps the developments actually are few and far between, which would explain why they are “difficult” challenges facing us. I think the answer is that the opposite of this last theory is true.

The strides in materials science have been so great that the opportunities in front of them are huge. For example, revolutionary substrate materials have opened a big door, and entering this entirely new area creates new challenges. The same is definitely true for low-k dielectric packaging. The materials scientists have done an amazing job of engineering materials with particular properties, and now other parts of the system need to catch up.

So, we should keep our eyes on the materials and their suppliers more than ever to see which way the industry goes. AP

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


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