The battle for mobility
The rapid adoption of technology in our everyday lives—smartphones, tablets, drones, smart homes, and autonomous cars, with more coming—is generating data in unprecedented volumes, which is driving demand for high-speed processing and storage across the internet. At the same time, it is creating markets for a variety of mobile and connected devices (the Internet of Things) that must integrate multiple functions (sensors, communications, storage, and processing) in the smallest possible volume. As a result, our industry is enjoying a period of exciting expansion across multiple segments, not only in leading-edge processors and advanced memories, but also in advanced packaging and specialty semiconductor chipsets used in communication and sensing.
Advanced packaging, in particular, is going mainstream, as it allows product designers to integrate varied functions and pack more capability into ever smaller volumes—with higher performance at a lower cost. TSMC, for example, has introduced its own integrated fan-out (InFO) process in order to provide this capability. This dynamic will continue to transform fan-out packaging, which initially attracted customers needing small footprints and form factors, but as InFO has shown, has scaled to high value devices like processors, and ultimately, will expand to multi-chip systems-on-package (SoP). As it does, the increasing number of devices with high I/O requirements and the desire to bring chipsets closer together will drive continuing shrinks in re-distribution lines (RDL) and bumps.
And TSMC is not alone. As advanced packaging achieves critical mass, most major manufacturers are pursuing R&D and process development efforts to reduce feature sizes and improve package reliability. Device failures from packaging, especially for advanced logic devices, are very expensive, and package interconnect reliability carries the potential for substantial product liability, hence effective process control methods and product tracking are essential. Smaller geometries will require tighter process control requirements and increased sensitivity in metrology and inspection systems. Improving reliability will depend on identifying and addressing process-specific failure mechanisms, such as saw induced stress (cracks and chips) and residue on interconnects. Other unique requirements, such as uncertainty in die placement on reconstituted substrates, will require integration of both process and process control information to provide a cohesive solution for processes like fan-out lithography on panels.
Advanced packaging is rapidly becoming a differentiator for product manufacturers and a growth enabler for our industry. We expect these themes to be significant drivers for Rudolph and across the industry in 2017.