Issue



R&D: Critical to Future Technologies


01/01/2005







Research and development is critical to future technologies of every sort. In the realm of electronics, R&D is both the heart and life’s blood of the industry. For electronics, the focus of interest in R&D has long been in the area of semiconductor design and manufacture. Semiconductors have continually garnished the lion’s share of research dollars as semiconductor technology has arguably been the place where the most “bang for the buck” could be had and the solutions sought tended to require expensive equipment for development. However, there has been a recent ground shift relative to where value can be found. It has now reached a point where IC packaging technology has risen significantly in importance. In fact, IC packaging technology is now viewed by many pundits and educators alike as the gating technology for much of future electronics.

The cause of the shift has been the growing recognition that increases in silicon integration cannot carry the day alone. The relentless drive to keep alive Gordon Moore’s prediction of endless doubling of transistors every 18 to 21 months is approaching its asymptote in terms of its potential for continuous doubling. Other technologies are now being looked at to provide solutions, and IC packaging has made the short list. This comes on the heels of the general realization over the last several years that solutions for the creation of smaller, faster, lighter, and cheaper electronics can perhaps be better achieved by more creative approaches to packaging silicon, rather than brut force doubling of transistors. The results of the efforts to date have been most impressive and provide silent, but brilliant, testimony to the apparently boundless creativity of electronic packaging engineers around the globe. Center to that piece of activity has been the development of IC chip stacking technologies, where amazing strides have been made. Stacking technologies, both at chip and package level, were first employed in the 1980s for use in very special applications, but in the last few years they have been developed to a point largely unimaginable by those involved in the humble beginnings of stacked chip packaging technology.

While these successes have been impressive, they also bring to mind the thought that R&D cannot normally be beneficially used without benefit of direction. While unbridled research can deliver unexpected results, most companies cannot afford to rely on serendipity to secure their future. Instead, R&D can provide a more predictable path to profitability by giving it direction.

Looking briefly at the 2005 Office of Science and Technology Policy Budget, some interesting facts pop off the pages. In fiscal year 2005, for example, the proposed total federal R&D investment will be increased to a record $132 billion in 2005. That’s up 44% compared to $91 billion spent in 2001, and it is the equivalent of an increase of 10% per year. The government report also states that the budget request commits 13.5% of total discretionary outlays to R&D, which they claim is the highest level since 1968 and the Apollo program. Unfortunately, however, only 5.7% of total discretionary outlays are relegated to non-defense R&D. Digging deeper, one can choose their targets based on funding. Major agency funding includes $28.6 billion for NIH, $5.7 billion for the NSF, $16.2 billion for NASA, $5.4 billion for DOE’s science and technology programs, $1 billion for nanotechnology R&D, $2 billion information technology R&D, and finally $228 million for hydrogen energy research, embodied in the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative.

It is clear from the report that there is a lot of money looking to find work in R&D, the question is how much will find its way to IC packaging. The answer is uncertain, however, because electronics are so pervasively used, there are likely many opportunities for advanced packages residing within those varied agency budgets. Certainly, NASA is known to be highly interested in advanced electronic packaging solutions to help them meet their space exploration goals. Likewise, the very term nanotechnology clearly begs for advanced packaging solutions to questions that are not even yet fully formed.

In summary, R&D is indispensable to the future of technology. However, to assure success in R&D, it is necessary that it be properly directed, performed in a timely manner, and appropriately nurtured with adequate funding.

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JOSEPH FJELSTAD, founder, may be contacted at SiliconPipe Inc., 992 DeAnza Blvd., # 201, San Jose, CA 95129; (408) 973-1744; e-mail: jfjelstad@sipipe.com.