Viewpoints: 2016 outlook

The changing landscape in semiconductor advanced packaging

By Rob Kavanagh, Global Business Director, Advanced Packaging Technologies, Dow Electronic Materials

While a number of electronics segments have been challenged by the PC market slowdown, some segments have shown reasonable growth in 2015 and have driven continued growth in advanced packaging, most notably the mobile market. In 2016, many trends bear watching as they may change the landscape considerably.

After filling mainly niche uses, fan-out wafer-level packaging (FOWLP) looks to be transitioning toward mainstream adoption. The reduced package height that can be achieved with FOWLP along with the ability to package together heterogeneous component types makes this approach attractive. Experts predict that industry interest in transitioning from fan-in packages for some applications is strong enough now to drive decisions on packaging designs and material selections during 2016. With the lack of substrate and reliance on redistribution, FOWLP poses new challenges and a need for new materials, and Dow Electronic Materials continues to be actively engaged.

In 2016, the semiconductor industry could reach an inflection point that has been developing over several years. As front-end manufacturing has moved to 14/16nm nodes, cost advantages of traditional node scaling have been challenged. Additionally, for some growth applications, including the current designs for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, 45nm node devices and above are sufficient to meet speed and computing power needs. Developing package designs, including FOWLP, 2.5D and 3D, provides a transition point where packaging technology continues to provide performance improvements, further driving device makers to consider the additional benefits of advanced packaging schemes alongside device shrink.

Meanwhile, the industry landscape is evolving. Prominent front-end players are becoming more involved in packaging as they begin to leverage the advantages derived from controlling decisions related to imaging technologies and IC design down to selection of packaging approach. More mergers and acquisitions in the semiconductor market have happened in 2015 than in the previous five years combined, which means that suppliers have to reassess the customer landscape. The M&A trend is expected to continue in 2016. Finally, another related trend that we see in 2016 is China’s continued investment in local manufacturing. This is a long-term strategy that will continue to change the semiconductor equipment and materials landscape, and suppliers must watch this market carefully.

Overall, we have high expectations for 2016 and beyond for electronic materials. We are seeing a number of new market drivers–automotive, IoT, connected world−that are becoming pervasive and have the potential to drive market growth.

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