Recession as the mother of innovation


Click to EnlargeMichael Todd,
Henkel Corporation, Irvine, CA USA

While the industry seems to be recovering nicely—and perhaps more quickly than anticipated—from the recent downturn, the effects of the financial events of the last 18 months will no doubt be felt for some time to come. Though there is still a fair amount of uncertainty regarding the sustainability of the recovery, it is clear that those companies that remained committed to their technology roadmaps will be better positioned for long-term growth.

For both manufacturers and suppliers, maintaining R&D investment levels during such a deep recession is a difficult proposition, to say the least, but is a commitment that is essential if companies want an enduring competitive edge. While many firms have pulled back on innovation initiatives, some companies have held firm to their technology commitments, pushing forward with development programs and other strategic investments.

Upholding resource commitments such as these throughout the recession has yielded materials advances that will no doubt benefit end users as they design and introduce new technologies to the market. And, as we move out of the recession, it is becoming increasingly evident that continued innovation investment is, indeed, the proper path, as many materials advancements simply would not have been born had resources been reduced.

As the old saying goes, "necessity is the mother of invention." So, perhaps, the recession was the mother of innovation!

During the downturn, for example, development of traditional die attach film products essential for current end user applications has continued, but programs to evaluate next-generation technologies that may potentially replace film were, and continue to be, evaluated. It's precisely these types of efforts on which many companies would typically scale back during a financial crisis, but forging ahead has yielded significant progress. With packaging firms now returning to full strength, they are focusing increasingly more on technology advance as opposed to cost, and are demanding market-ready solutions.

Without ongoing development over the last 18 months, many technologies required to enable new products would still be at the starting gate instead of moving toward the finish line. Take, for instance, the advance of stacked package applications: ultra-thin bondlines will soon be the norm for stacked packages, and film will likely not be able to meet the next-generation demands. Current investment in die attach solutions that consistently deposit materials at thicknesses that push far beyond current capabilities will certainly pay off in the long-term, as device manufacturers will be able to meet time-to-market deadlines and maintain competitiveness.

There are countless other examples, too. For applications where exceptionally thin bondlines aren't as critical—leadframe packages, for instance—development of a conductive die attach film that offers electrical properties similar to those of silver-filled pastes is underway. This advance essentially delivers leadframe package manufacturers with the same throughput and processability advantages of film-based products.

But industry development initiatives haven't been limited to die attach; work is also being done on a new compression molding technique that enables overmold of a redistributed wafer. Of course, the material requirements are very unique, as the material must be able to withstand all of the downstream processes, such as plating and multiple thermal cycles; but there have been excellent results in early trials.

There are also already commercialized materials designed for certain applications that are finding use either in alternative processes, or for completely new products. Taking successful results and applying those to completely different scenarios is also part of the innovation experience.

So, innovating through a downturn is most assuredly possible and, in my view, imperative. I'm certainly not suggesting that our company was immune to the effects of the global downturn. We, too, implemented cost-saving measures to ensure the stability of our business, but not at the expense of innovation programs. I firmly believe that future success—for all of us—relies on dedication to fulfilling technology roadmaps and innovation commitments. This isn't always the easiest path forward, but arguably the most beneficial, and the electronics industry at large will reap the rewards.

Michael Todd, is VP of Product Development & Engineering, Henkel Corporation, Irvine, CA USA;

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