By Rob Kavanagh, DuPont Electronics & Imaging
July 02, 2019
Before the invention of the world wide web, which marked the beginning of the connected world we live in today, we could not conceive of the efficiencies it would create for everyday people living everyday lives. The very idea that a handheld device slimmer than a deck of cards would become the means by which we conduct many aspects of our lives was the stuff of science fiction movies. And in the category of not-in-our-lifetime were cars that drive themselves, robot assistants that anticipate and fulfill our needs and whims, and homes that self-regulate and keep watch over their inhabitants.
Now, a mere 30 years later, all of these technologies exist, and some are even commonplace. An entire generation has little recollection of life without the Internet, and soon, the same will be said about the Internet of Things (IoT). Our world is becoming more connected by the minute, and the efficiencies this affords are becoming more democratized, thanks to the semiconductor industry, which provides the underpinnings that make it possible.
What Will the Connected World Look Like with High-speed, High-frequency Networks?
Information forms the foundation of our connected world. Data is gathered, collected and interpreted, and actions are autonomously executed based on it. The rapid growth of sensors is creating a data explosion that will certainly overwhelm the existing networking, data processing and storage infrastructure and will outpace the growth of new infrastructure. But there are ways to improve this thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and communication networks, with deployments of 5G networks and early development of 6G already underway.
Rather than sending zettabytes of raw data to clog up the cloud, the solution lies in sending only actionable information by processing at the edge to sort out unneeded data, whether the source is a wearable device, smart speaker, or autonomous vehicle. Edge computing reduces latency and improves reaction time. Bringing such capabilities to bear is driving growth in both advanced sensor development and high-performance computing. DuPont is responding to these high-speed, high-frequency market needs with products and development programs focused on solving critical technology challenges, including low-loss dielectrics needed for RDL, IC substrate build-up film and flex substrates, thermal materials, and metallization for flex substrates.
How Packaging Drives the Connected World
Until recently, advanced packaging played a secondary role compared to CMOS scaling. The industry was enabled by Moore’s Law performance gains, and it was believed that the only way to get more performance out of a device was to cram more transistors onto 2-dimensional structures.
The role of packaging was relegated to device protection, handling, testing, heat dissipation and power distribution. However, as I/O densities continued to shrink, packaging technologies evolved to bridge the gap between the chip and the printed circuit board. Now, the need to integrate diverse functionalities into ever-smaller devices creates a new value proposition for advanced packaging technologies that can’t be achieved through scaling.
Bringing all these different elements together requires the right tool for the job. And here, the plethora of advanced packaging approaches delivers through both established and emerging platforms. Once an advanced packaging technology is qualified and proven, it typically has significant longevity in the market.
Case in point: Flip-chip packages remain tremendously important for logic, memory and high-performance computing, despite being first adopted two decades ago. And, while fan-out wafer-level packaging (FOWLP) made a name for itself with TSMC’s high-density version, InFO, many new applications are being proposed, including high-speed computing. Moreover, low-density FOWLP, used for a number of other handset components, is now finding its way into automotive electronics.
In the meantime, 2.5D packaging, first used to integrate high-bandwidth memory (HBM) stacks with graphics processor units (GPUs) for gaming applications, is now being tapped for chiplet integration of disparate technologies in high-density, system-in-package (SiP) configurations. And true 3D IC integration (with or without through silicon via [TSV] interconnects) is being targeted for high-performance memory and logic for 5G networks and data centers, and, in the future, for neural networks.
Materials Make a Difference
With such a broad spectrum of solutions in use, from conventional to high-density advanced packaging, choosing which advanced electronic material sets to support them is one of the most important decisions a semiconductor manufacturer can make.
From packaging dielectrics and metallization chemistries for redistribution layers (RDL), copper pillars, solder bumps, and TSV plating and filling, to packaging assembly materials like die attach, permanent bonding, encapsulants, lid seal, and thermal management, materials designed to work in concert make a significant impact on device performance and reliability.
Focus on Thermal Management
In particular, advancements in thermal interface materials are crucial for power management in cloud computing data centers. Current thermal conductivity limits around 6 watts per meter-Kelvin will impact the amount of available processing power needed to crunch increasing volumes of data. Development of solutions with much higher thermal conductivity are essential to enable future performance levels.
It’s not only data centers that are consuming more power, but automotive electronics are also becoming more power-hungry as the amount of processing power continues to increase. The systems needed to achieve levels 3, 4 and 5 autonomy consume kilowatts of energy and generate enormous amounts of heat, which must be mitigated with proper thermal management. To complicate matters further, it also requires more power to move the heat generated by these devices.
These thermal challenges and many others related to vehicle electrification are the focus of DuPont’s Accelerating Hybrid-Electric Autonomous Driving (AHEAD™) initiative, which was launched last year.
Playing a Vital Role
DuPont Electronics & Imaging plays a vital role in building many of the critical components of the infrastructure needed for a connected world, through its current evolution and beyond. The convergence of sensing, processing, storing, and transmitting capabilities requires us to continually leverage decades of experience to add to our portfolio. There is much at stake, and we are up to the challenge.