Insights From Leading Edge

IFTLE 391 DoD Worried About Access to State-of-the-art Packaging Technologies

By Dr. Phil Garrou, Contributing Editor

Continuing last week’s conversation about access to state-of-the-art packaging capabilities if you are not a large volume player, let’s look at the current concerns of the USG (US govt).

In the early years of the microelectronics industry the US Govt with its defense and communications requirements drove the electronics industry. In recent decades, however, commercial applications and high-volume production have dwarfed US Govt demand, resulting in commercial market forces driving the industry. Advanced packaging in the 1980s – 1990’s was driven by the integrated  device manufacturers (IDMs) in the US and Japan ( IBM, AT&T, TI, Motorola, DEC, HP, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Toshiba, NEC).

By the early 2000’s it had become clear that the demand for more and more I/O required a move to area array interconnection to replace the I/O limited Wire Bond technology that was in place. Up till then area array technology, exemplified most prominently by “bumping” was a technology only practiced by the mainframe computer companies. Starting ~ 2000  several of the evolving assembly houses in Taiwan and Korea like ASE, Amkor, Siliconware, STATSChipPAC (all located in Asia) licensed the US bumping and wafer level packaging technology of FCT (Flip Chip Technologies, Phoenix ,AZ) and Unitive Electronics (RTP, NC) and made such technology available worldwide. This technology was quickly adopted into portable consumer as well as computer products.

The massive commercial bumping capacity that was put in place in Taiwan and Korea delivered higher profit margins to these assembly companies separating them from those without such technology availability, and making US companies reliant on getting such technology from overseas. It also made it clear to these select assembly companies that “advanced” packaging was a higher profit margin packaging and assembly business that was worth their investment.

During the period 2000 – 2015 we slowly saw a year–to-year migration of the leadership in advanced packaging technologies moving from the afore mentioned IDM’s to these select major assembly houses in Asia.  This shift is best seen by analyzing the presentations at the IEEE Electronic Component Technology Conference (ECTC) which is the accepted world showcase for advanced packaging technologies. Ironically, the assembly houses, which were created to absorb the “packaging grunt work” the IDMs no longer wanted to do, discovered the potential financial advantage of developing the next generation advanced packaging solutions and ran with it.

We now appear to be in the process (2015–2020) of shifting leadership to the large global foundry houses like TSMC, Samsung and GlobalFoundries. Their ability to obtain finer geometry features using front end technologies, their comfort with processes like CMP and their comfort working in clean environments has put them in a position of strength for the latest high density packaging solutions.

Obtaining business with the Apple’s of the world now hinges on having both the best chip solution and the best packaging solution. Companies like TSMC saw this early on and have been investing heavily in developing the latest leading edge packaging solutions

Trusted Microelectronics Joint Working Group

In 2017 a diverse group of semiconductor industry, defense primes, DoD, and research institute professionals was assembled as a Joint Working Group to look into the future of microelectronics in the US and specifically how that future will impact the economic well-being and defense of our country. That list of participants is shown below:

Their findings included:

– there has been a migration of key supply chain elements particularly chip fabrication and packaging to overseas locations

simple access to the parts needed from the larger global electronics industry base has become a  large concern

The figure below was developed to show the tactical and strategic nature of the access issue.

When looking at emerging technologies they especially called out:

1. 3D / Heterogeneous Integration

2. Compound Semiconductor

3. Advanced Node CMOS

4. Other Novel Technologies: Advanced Digital, Analog Computing, Neuromorphic and Quantum

Access to Adv Node CMOS

The DoD requires access to state-of-the-art (deep node) CMOS for a number of current applications as well as R&D efforts for future systems. Advanced digital computation requirements benefit tremendously from state-of-the-art (SOTA) CMOS solutions.

SOTA CMOS fabs are very large and expensive with high volume commercial facilities costing over $10B. R&D expenses are also enormous. For this reason, there are only 4 companies left that offer SOTA CMOS: INTEL, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Samsung and TSMC. All of these companies rely on the scale of high volume manufacturing to finance the capital and R&D requirements to maintain their competitiveness.

As a result of the enormous cost and complexity of the SOTA CMOS business, DoD access has become very difficult in recent years. There is a substantial difference in business model between commercial needs to produce very large volumes of a small mix of parts while DoD requires substantially fewer parts across a broad device mix. The NRE costs associated with SOTA design and fabrication make the high mix, low volume requirements difficult to attract commercial interest in servicing the DoD.

DoD has addressed this challenge in the past through its “Trusted Foundry” contract with IBM. This ended in 2015 with the sale of IBM Microelectronics to GlobalFoundries (GF), a foreign owned firm. The

In the long run, it is important for DoD to have assured access to secure SOTA CMOS from a variety of sources. Given the very different business models of the commercial world and DoD, this will be a challenging goal to achieve.

Access to 3D / Heterogeneous Integration technology

In terms of advanced packaging this study specifically called out  3D / heterogeneous integration technology and the assembly of microbumped flip chip dies onto interposer substrates and noted that :

“…..Therefore, the challenge for trusted heterogeneous integration technology is to stand up and maintain trusted 2.5D / 3D integration and assembly supply chain capabilities”

They concluded that :

There is grave concern today about the growing gap between commercial suppliers (many critical suppliers are offshore or owned by foreign entities) and defense needs. In the past, semiconductors and even software were created from a small number of large onshore vertically-integrated companies that had close ties and large business interests with the defense industries. The disaggregation of this industry into hundreds of international suppliers combined with commercial uses/volumes of microelectronics that far outstrip the DoD needs has created this alarming gap. This gap continues to grow.” 

“A National Strategy will need to encompass the entire lifecycle of DoD system needs (up to 50 year lifetimes and small volumes) and mesh that with the relative “mayflies” of the commercial world (< 2 years lifetimes and billions of devices…..The existence of China’s National Semiconductor Strategy cannot go unmentioned. They aim for total self-sufficiency and are investing heavily in their infrastructure. The US should not blindly emulate this approach but needs to develop its own unique strategy for ensuring long term access to secure components as well as enabling US economic vitality in this area. Creation of a practical US National Microelectronics Strategy will be a challenging multi-year process, requiring good insights into the future of the industry as well as intimate knowledge of the workings of the USG. The authors of this paper believe that this process should start now.”

Assured Supply for Microelectronics Manufacturing:Solicitation Number: W15QKN-18-X-02S7

In June 2018  the U.S. Army Emerging Technologies Contracting Center, on behalf of the Under Secretary of Defense for Res and Eng, issued a request for information (RFI) seeking information on business models and/or public-private partnerships (PPP) to provide long-term, economically-viable, assured sources to meet US commercial and government needs for state-of-the-art (SOTA) microelectronics design, fabrication, and packaging within the US domestic ecosystem. The U.S. Government (USG) is seeking inputs from the commercial microelectronics industry, industrial and standards groups, research and development contributors from government and industry, and states and regional governments, and private capital market players in this area. “This is a RFI not a Request for Proposal (RFP) or a promise to issue an RFP in the future”.

They define the problem as “The licit and illicit offshoring of intellectual property (IP), research and development (R&D), and production capabilities threaten the ability of U.S. companies to capitalize for the market-driving technologies of the future, opens critical infrastructure and data systems to attack, and degrades our national security. The current set of incentives offered by the USG can be better aligned to retain domestic capacity and technology leadership. The USG only represents less than 2% of the global commercial market for  microelectronics, and with current USG unique procurement policies, standards, and security requirements, industry lacks incentives to willingly and affordably meet the government microelectronics demands.”

Other nations will innovate faster, capture market share, and obtain the best technology at the expense of the U.S., impacting domestic innovation and the manufacturing base. The U.S. may lose the ability to realize the best ideas and capabilities across commercial and national security sectors, becoming dependent on competitor nations. A reliance on foreign made microelectronics with unreliable assurance and security could disrupt USG access to advanced technology critical to national security, and in general, devastate U.S. manufacturing, business, financial, and communications infrastructure.”

The goal of the information procurement is to develop a program to “…ensure the U.S. is recognized globally as the preferred source for superior microelectronics; delivering technology faster, more efficiently, and with the highest levels of assurance. …. Domestic foundries and packaging capabilities will support these activities, translating leading-edge R&D into new products. Assurance and security become competitive advantages for U.S. industry practiced at all stages of development and production ensuring the nation delivers reliable and superior microelectronics components, systems, and capabilities more quickly than other nations.”

The Government recognizes the need to proactively engage with industry to make such efforts successful . They report that they are executing a plan to provide semiconductor and microelectronics leadership now and into the future with a “whole-of-government effort”.  The U.S. Army Emerging Technologies Contracting Centeris requesting information on behalf of the USG on how to achieve the above outcomes most effectively.

Sources are encouraged to provide their ideas for the structure and sustainability of commercial business arrangements and/or PPPs necessary to deliver microelectronics manufacturing and leadership in a domestic ecosystem now and into the future. Sources are requested to respond to this RFI with a white paper.

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