Emerging applications powered by 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) are expected to be a boon to the semiconductor industry, but only once chipmakers overcome a key challenge: Architecting chips that meet the exacting performance, power consumption, size and cost requirements of devices for mid- to high-end applications. One technology – heterogeneous integration – promises to meet these demands and help drive future leaps in semiconductor innovation in the post-Moore era.
To help the industry better grasp the technology challenges and business opportunities associated with deploying highly integrated chip and packaging technologies, SEMI and AI on Chip Taiwan Alliance recently gathered industry leaders from organizations including ASE, Unimicron, Dialog Semiconductor, Cadence and AITA to discuss technology trends and the vital importance of building a cross-industry exchange platform to advance next-generation manufacturing processes critical to heterogeneous integration. Following are key takeaways from the forum, Heterogeneous Integration Enables 5G and AI.
Overcoming Heterogeneous Integration Technology Challenges Key to Advances in Taiwan High-End Semiconductor Manufacturing
The introduction of the Heterogeneous Integration Roadmap (HIR) by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors team in 2016 was an important first step, Dr. C.P. Hung, Vice President of ASE Group, noted in his opening remarks. The HIR is designed to stimulate pre-competitive collaboration to advance heterogeneous integration technology development and accelerate electronics innovation. The roadmap provides a long-term vision for the electronics industry, identifying future technology requirements and potential solutions. Today, the HIR working group focuses on high-performance computing (HPC), 5G and other leading-edge technologies.
Dr. Hung predicted that heterogenous integration will reshape traditional collaborations between the semiconductor ecosystem and supply chain in order to clear I/O bottlenecks that hamstring high-performance applications. The retooled industry connections will also need to enable high I/O pin counts, ultra-thin devices, and high-frequency signal shields. In an important step forward, the chip industry today is developing a platform that enhances wafer-level advanced packaging services and deepens cooperation with Oversea Assembly and Testing (OSAT) and substrate supply chain partners.
Overcoming the current limits of IC substrates – the connection between IC chips the PCB – is one key for heterogeneous integration technology to flourish, said Dr. Yu-Hua Chen, Vice President, Carrier SBU, RD Division of Unimicron. He noted that the industry must tackle limits to PCB thickness, substrate density, fine pitch and automation to meet the needs of high-end packaging customers.
Another barrier the industry must be surmounted is to make the currently inscrutable confidentiality requirements for patents of foreign materials – key to improving chip yields – easier to access and understand for substrate engineers. Chen said partnerships across the entire industry will be necessary to break through this and other technology breakthroughs.
Supply Chain and Cross-Border Ecosystem to Strengthen Partnerships for Further Development
Taiwan has long invested heavily in advancing semiconductor manufacturing and application engineering technologies to become a top global chipmaking hub and, in the process, has been behind significant leaps in optimizing chip functionality, said Leroy Liu, General Manager, Asia Headquarters, of Dialog Semiconductor (Germany). With its semiconductor manufacturing prowess, Taiwan can also play a central role in maturing advanced heterogeneous integration packaging technology while managing development costs by partnering with its international supply chain community to overcome technical challenges more effectively, Liu said. The region can also help forge partnerships, even among competitors, to build the ecosystem essential for heterogeneous integration technology to shine.
EDA tools will be critical in understanding and resolving heterogeneous integration technical issues since IC substrate, packaging and chip design all pose interdisciplinary engineering challenges, said Julian Sun, Product Marketing Director at Cadence. To help the industry navigate these challenges, Cadence has launched intelligent system design products – solutions that address a wide range of design problems with semiconductor nanometers, micrometers on packaging and testing, and PCB level micro/millimeters to Pin/Pitch, I/O models, and thermals and electricity. By supporting various technical designs, Cadence helps customers shorten the design cycle to strengthen design quality and reduce costs.
Sun also pointed to the vital importance of overcoming the significant challenge of designing silicon interposers for heterogeneous integration. Today’s EDA tools are capable of optimizing the design of complex structures including 5GAiP and HBM and are instrumental in aiding Taiwan’s semiconductor ecosystem players to quickly adapt to shifts in the evolving heterogeneous integration market.
Heterogeneous Integration Enables 5G and AI speakers (L-R): Julian Sun, Product Marketing Director at Cadence, Dr. Yu-Hua Chen, Vice President, Carrier SBU, RD Division of Unimicron, Dr. C.P. Hung, Vice President of ASE Group, Leroy Liu, General Manager, Asia Headquarters, of Dialog Semiconductor (Germany), Dr. Shih-Chieh Chang, AITA Executive Secretary
Designing AI chips is particularly difficult as semiconductor makers struggle with high costs and low yields, said Dr. Shih-Chieh Chang, AITA’s Executive Secretary. That’s why the chip industry now uses FPGAs for small-volume production of AI chips, which makes it easier to improve manufacturing yield through redundant design. For its part, AITA has formed a special interest group (SIG) to help form connections among the chip industry, academia and research institutes. The association’s goal is to build a platform for mass production of AI chips.
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Elma Fang is a coordinator and Ashley Huang is a specialist in marketing and public relations at SEMI Taiwan.