A Breath of Fresh Air


Someone once said that to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. I thought of this while attending SEMICON West on July 12 - 14 in San Francisco. During each interview with company leaders, each review of new products, and each technical session, I looked for what was innovative and a source for new ideas. Original thinkers are keeping the back-end ahead of the recovery curve in the electronics marketplace, and I was on a mission to talk to a few creative leaders.

Tien Wu, Ph.D., Advanced Semiconductor Engineering, Inc.’s (ASE) president, Americas/Europe, presented a fresh perspective on mostly everything involving advanced packages. His background - a BSCE degree from Taiwan University and a MS and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania - fits his career choices. Prior to joining ASE, Wu held several management positions at IBM, including R&D, process development, manufacturing, application and ASIC design, marketing, and sales in the U.S., Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region.

How was ASE’s growth outstanding this year? SEMI’s mid-year capital equipment consensus forecast for the semiconductor industry showed a 12% decline from 2004 figures, ending at a predicted $32.6 billion in sales for 2005. SEMI members anticipated cautious spending this year, as the expanded capacity in 2004 was absorbed. Respondents to SEMI’s survey said that the market would grow at a single-digit rate in 2006 and reach $44.3 billion in 2008. ASE is gaining market share among SATS providers, and their growth shows double digits this year, outpacing competitors.

Wu sees a tightening of capacity in back-end processing, and expects 2006 to be especially fruitful for this segment of the market. Back-end is leading the industry, and ASE provides back-end services. But there’s more to it than being in the right market segment. There are lots of reasons for ASE’s success, according to Wu, including:

  • Flexibility of package assembly services, including bumping, bonding, testing, supplying materials, and providing turnkey or stand-alone assistance.
  • Right investments for future growth.
  • Willingness to meet present demands or perceive future customer demands.

If a customer wants completely lead-free, ASE provides lead-free packages. Cost control is one of the biggest problems with lead-free, according to Wu. The cheapest material that works well is what a customer will use. However, at present, there are no reliable standards of material choices and no recipe. Each bill of materials is different for each OEM. Eventually, lead-free will evolve in the industry, but it will take a few standards and verification of materials used.

We asked Wu where he saw the boundary between the front- and back-end. He said that it was much more determined by business than by technology. “Money, not processes, determines the difference between the front- and back-end,” he added. That will be another topic for a future article in Advanced Packaging.

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Gail Flower