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Advanced IC packaging: A key enabler for ‘More than Moore’s Law’

The semiconductor industry is facing a major challenge as transistor scaling reaches its physical and economic limits. The traditional Moore’s Law paradigm of doubling the number of transistors on a chip every two years is becoming harder and costlier to sustain. To overcome this challenge, the industry is shifting its focus from scaling transistors to scaling integration. This means combining multiple chips or chip components into a single package to achieve higher performance, functionality, and efficiency. This is the essence of advanced IC packaging, a collection of techniques that enable heterogeneous integration of different types of devices and technologies.

Advanced IC packaging is not a new concept. The industry has been using various forms of multi-chip modules (MCMs) and system-in-package (SiP) solutions for decades. However, the recent advances in packaging technologies have opened new possibilities for integrating more chips and chiplets with higher density and complexity. Some of the key advanced packaging techniques are:

  • 2.5D IC: This technique uses an interposer, a thin silicon substrate with through-silicon vias (TSVs), to connect multiple chips or chiplets on a single package. The interposer acts as a bridge between the chips and the package substrate, providing high-bandwidth and low-latency communication. 2.5D ICs are widely used for high-performance applications such as graphics processing units (GPUs), field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and memory stacks.
  • 3D IC: This technique stacks multiple chips or chiplets vertically using TSVs or microbumps to create a three-dimensional structure. 3D ICs can reduce the distance between devices and improve power efficiency and performance. 3D ICs are commonly used for memory devices such as high-bandwidth memory (HBM) and hybrid memory cube (HMC), as well as sensors and image processors.
  • Fan-out wafer-level packaging (FOWLP): This technique embeds multiple chips or chiplets into a mold compound on a wafer level and then redistributes the connections to the package surface using fine-pitch wiring. FOWLP can eliminate the need for substrates and interposers, reducing the package size and cost. FOWLP can also enable heterogeneous integration of different devices and technologies on a single package. FOWLP is widely used for mobile applications such as smartphones and wearables, as well as automotive and industrial applications.

Advanced IC packaging offers many benefits for the semiconductor industry:

  • Enabling ‘More than Moore’ innovation: Advanced IC packaging allows the industry to leverage the best of different process nodes, device types, and technologies to create novel solutions that go beyond transistor scaling. For example, advanced IC packaging can enable AI acceleration by integrating logic, memory, and analog devices on a single package.
  • Enhancing performance and efficiency: Advanced IC packaging can improve the speed, bandwidth, latency, power consumption, and thermal management of devices by reducing the interconnect length and resistance between them. For example, advanced IC packaging can enable high-performance computing by integrating GPUs and memory stacks on a single package.
  • Reducing cost and time-to-market: Advanced IC packaging can lower the cost of integration by using existing manufacturing infrastructure and processes, rather than developing new ones. Advanced IC packaging can also shorten the time-to-market by enabling faster design iterations and prototyping.

However, advanced IC packaging also poses many challenges for the semiconductor industry:

  • Increasing design complexity: Advanced IC packaging requires a holistic approach that considers the interactions between devices, interconnects, packages, boards, and systems. This increases the design complexity and requires new tools and methodologies for co-design, co-simulation, co-verification, co-optimization, co-testing, and co-debugging across different domains.
  • Intensifying competition: Advanced IC packaging creates new opportunities for collaboration and competition among different players in the semiconductor ecosystem, such as foundries, OSATs (outsourced semiconductor assembly and test), fabless companies, system companies, EDA vendors, IP providers, equipment suppliers, material suppliers, etc. This requires new business models and strategies to capture value and differentiate from rivals.
  • Raising quality and reliability issues: Advanced IC packaging introduces new sources of stress and failure mechanisms for devices due to thermal mismatch, mechanical deformation, electrical overstress, electromigration, etc. This requires new standards and methods for quality assurance and reliability testing.

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