BY JOHN HARTNER, DEK
s semiconductor technologies mature, keeping up with Moore’s Law becomes progressively tougher. The economic implications of falling off the curve provide a powerful incentive to keep up, but still the pace needs to be quicker. The semiconductor industry must take advantage of good ideas wherever they are found if they are going to thrive.
Some parts of the packaging industry, for example, have successfully adopted techniques from high-volume surface-mount assembly. The high levels of throughput, repeatability, and equipment use achieved in this sector have allowed dramatic reductions in cost-per-unit for end-user products. With the same commercial pressures now fully manifested in packaging, the race is on to perfect next-generation SMT-like processes to solve packaging-specific challenges at wafer and substrate levels. To this end, close relationships with world-class technology partners will be crucial.
Being a dynamic technology partner requires more of a total product offering and successful solutions, as pitches and other process parameters become progressively tighter and more demanding. It is vital to deliver a comprehensive, optimized solution addressing every aspect of the process, beginning with the machine; to providing smooth and effective interfaces into functions including process control, diagnostics, and continuous improvement.
Encouraging the semiconductor industry to speed-up adoption of new techniques invites trouble for suppliers who are not geared up to deliver the required improvements. As semiconductor manufacturers and non-captive packaging specialists are putting in capital equipment, only those suppliers with robust and aggressive roadmaps will be able to stay the course. Without a credible plan and the means to deliver promised improvements, that supplier’s offering could be of limited value in a short time. Also essential to credibility is being able to demonstrate consistent delivery of solutions ahead of the curve.
The increasing pace of progress also tends to accelerate the industry’s natural cycles, demanding faster and more decisive action in each phase from all of us. So it is even more important to work vigorously with each customer in the softer parts of the cycle to develop new techniques and align the asset base with new requirements. Stronger times will demand faster reaction to surges in demand. Meeting these ideals will lead semiconductor vendors to expect more flexibility from their technology partners: more configurable platforms to replace dedicated equipment, a more dynamic model for developing and delivering solutions, and production-quality global support infrastructures to install new solutions and ramp quickly to reach peak productivity.
Only those suppliers with a suitable model to deliver value in both up and down cycles of capital equipment purchasing, therefore, need apply for a position in tomorrow’s semiconductor industry. The need for more flexible equipment platforms is an interesting example, as manufacturers move away from relying on dedicated machine solutions and seek an asset base they can reconfigure as their needs change with the cycle. This will become increasingly important as businesses continue to improve quality and reduce prices for mature packaging technologies, while also quickly implementing successive new technologies as they arrive. The periods when capital investment softens are the times when co-working to generate creative solutions intensifies. These conditions demand our total commitment to delivering comprehensive support for customers’ processes, including tremendous depth of engineering expertise to configure solutions capable of hastening the cycle still further.
Overall, the medium- to long-term forecasts for the semiconductor business are positive, with expected market growth at around twice the average GDP rate. Migration to the 45-nm design node, increases in 300-mm wafer production volumes, and associated improvements in fabrication equipment and die-testing solutions will be major industry milestones.
With the anticipated IC price reductions and performance increases that these developments will unlock, there is excitement in store for the packaging community. More cost-effective and commercial solutions to die stacking are required, for example, and the use of package-on-package (PoP) to realize similar “high-rise” benefits will increase the scope for us to create powerful and flexible solutions based on proven platforms and processes.
In parallel with advanced machines and process solutions, commercialization of emerging semiconductor technologies will require improved tools to maximize use and management of equipment. Clearly, the influx of techniques and solutions into the semiconductor sector from other industries, such as SMT, will also bring across harder commercial attitudes. The semiconductor industry and its end customers will be expecting to achieve more than merely “keeping up” with Moore’s Law.
John Hartner, CEO, may be contacted at DEK, Granby Industrial Estate, Weymouth, Dorset, UK, DT4 9TH; +44/1305 760760; E-mail: [email protected].