Semicon West Preview: Packaging

Packaging supply chain looks at impact of modular hardware, options for smaller SiP.

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By Paula Doe
The evolving mobile device market means the packaging, assembly and test supply chain faces a growing range of alternative technologies vying for its investment dollar, everything from Google’s modular electronics with 3D printing, to more solutions for integrating varied chips in smaller packaged systems.

One potentially disruptive change is the wider use of more open-source hardware.  An open, modular hardware platform will lower the barrier to entry so not just large OEMs but thousands of developers can develop hardware for smart phones, to hasten the pace of innovation, says Dr. Kaigham Gabriel, Deputy, Advanced Technology and Projects group, Google, who will discuss the Ara modular electronics project in his keynote to the packaging program at SEMICON West, July 8-10. He notes that this competition and innovation, and a new generation of free, open-source design tools, will create a hardware ecosystem more like that for software apps, which will help compress development time for hardware. Google’s role will be as the facilitator and curator at the center of this platform architecture to deliver modules from developers to consumers.

Chips will be integrated into functional modules for the Ara phone and mechanically connected by the endoskeleton, the frame that provides the power and data connectivity to each module. The endoskeleton provides a packet-switched network between the modules using the modern UniPro and M-PHY protocol standards, developed by the mobile industry’s MIPI consortium. The protocols support multi-gigabit inter-module data throughput, extremely low latencies, and variable power consumption, Gabriel explains.

Each module will be encapsulated in a removable enclosure, which can be built to order by 3D printing and further customized by printed patterns, photos or textures, or by printing with conductive inks for antennas or other features. He reports Google has partnered with 3D Systems, the world’s biggest producer of additive manufacturing equipment, to develop the first continuous high-speed direct digital manufacturing system, consisting of a multi-material additive acrylate plastic manufacturing stage, as well as others including subtractive, discrete component pick-and-place, conductive material printing, and finishing.

Will FO-WLP provide a smaller SiP solution for mobile devices?
Size, speed and power demands for mobile devices also continue to drive new approaches to chip integration at the package level, especially for modular multi-chip system-in-packages that combine the necessary chips into functional blocks for particular applications for plug-and-play ease of use. Flip chip has enabled small form factor SiP solutions for many years, and wafer-level chip-size packaging has been the fastest growing package type, fuled by the drive for miniaturization. Fan-out WLPs are now emerging as a possible SiP solution. Reliability improvements over the last few years now make FO-WLPs a potentially promising option, but the major packaging suppliers have widely different views on the flavor of the day and whether or not to invest in this capacity. SEMI will convene a panel of the major players Amkor Technology, Deca Technologies, NANIUM, STATS ChipPAC and TSMC to discuss their divergent views on this emerging technology.

“It’s a critical point in time for this technology, if it’s going to become the McDonalds’ hamburger solution where every supplier provides a product that is the same no matter which geographic location you visit. FO-WLP should have the same attributes and “taste” no matter which supplier provides the package” notes Jan Vardaman, president of TechSearch International, who will moderate the panel.

The industry executives on SEMI’s Packaging Committee have invited these and other speakers to discuss the sector’s key challenges at the packaging track in this year’s new Semiconductor Technology Symposium at SEMICON West 2014, July 8-10, in San Francisco.

—Paula Doe is technology director at SEMI.