Rolling Along and Shifting Gears

Like baseball and apple pie, innovation has long been a hallmark of American culture. Early on, innovation was deemed so important to the health and well-being of the young nation that the U.S. constitution includes provisions for patents to be issued offering a limited monopoly position to those willing to share their ideas for the greater benefit of the country. It was a powerful incentive, one that lured independent innovators to build the “better mousetrap.” The pantheon of electronic innovators who have been awarded patents for their world-changing innovations includes such memorable names as Bell, De Forrest, Dolby, Eastman, Farnsworth, Kilby, Noyce, and Shockley.

While innovation was originally the preserve of the individual, Edison significantly changed the playing field by creating an invention factory in Menlo Park, NJ. Today, innovation is commonly carried out by teams funded either by companies, organizations, or universities. Most governments with leading economies find financial support for research projects of national interest. Most innovations in electronics, whether originating in the industry or academia, now result from focused research and development designed to meet corporate objectives and fulfill targeted needs to meet customer expectations.

Universities have long been significant contributors to electronics research. However, over the last 20 years, the number of universities with high-level electronics research centers has risen significantly, contributing greatly to the development of technology. The increased participation of university professors and their students in industry events and conferences has been an important impetus to help them better understand the needs of the industry, and improve the focus of their research efforts.

In the last year, the endless parade of innovations in electronics packaging continued with new developments, targeted to hold true to the mantra of “faster, smaller, lighter, and cheaper,” while adding more functionality. Many competing solutions for meeting IC and electronic packaging density needs hit their stride as a result of research directed towards stacking technologies and techniques for increasing integration. Increasing the functionality of portable electronic devices seems to have become an important engine driving electronic packaging innovation.

Only a few years ago, there were just a handful of electronic package types; those numbers have increased dramatically in the last several years. With that proliferation comes an increase in the granularity of IC packaging types, evidenced by the use of new terms to describe packaging and interconnection schemes. For example, while many new technologies could be lumped under the heading of multi-chip package or multi-chip module, developers have opted for newer descriptive terms, such as package-on-package (PoP) for stacked-package solutions, and package-in-package (PiP) for structures where packaged die are repackaged into a super module.

Another area that made some significant strides in increased awareness and in actual production is wafer-level packaging. At the SMTA’s International Wafer-level Packaging Conference (IWLPC) in November 2005, the comments of respected industry analysts – Jan Vardaman, Jim Walker, and Sandra Winkler – and the content of papers from around the globe, indicate that wafer-level packaging (WLP) is real and becoming mainstream for a number of different product types. The tools to make, inspect, and test them are either here, or on their way. Wafer stacking is a technology offering significant promise for certain types of devices, such as memory. During the conference, Tessera Inc. announced its acquisition of WLP pioneer, Shellcase. Bruce McWilliams, CEO of Tessera, says his company intends to make Shellcase a center for excellence in WLP and stressed the importance of WLP for camera chips.

WLP is blurring the line between the front and back ends of the line; and the opportunity exists to reconsider the placement of those lines. WLP provider Unitive, an Amkor company, introduced the term µEMS at IWLPC to describe a new business sector that will more coherently interface between the semiconductor manufacture and the EMS provider.

In summary, research and development in the electronics packaging industry continues to roll along and has been shifting gears to meet the demands and challenges required for following electronic industry roadmaps. There is little doubt that this trend will be continuing in the coming year.

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JOE FJELSTAD may be contacted at SiliconPipe Inc., 992 DeAnza Blvd., San Jose, CA 95129; 408/973-1744, ext. 203; E-mail: [email protected].


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