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iNEMI Roadmap Points to Ceramic Technology as a Key Enabler for 5G Devices

Howard Imhof
by Howard Imhof on Jul 17, 2017 11:00:00 AM

As the electronics industry continues its dramatic changes and 5G/IoT devices and applications become more prevalent, innovative ceramic interconnection substrate technology is becoming a key enabler. Few material technologies can operate at 5G frequencies and up to 80 GHz. The high-frequency, microwave and electrical performance of low-temperature co-fired ceramics (LTCC) can support these requirements.  
Ceramic substrates offer a tool set that will enable adopters to realize a competitive advantage through increased functionality, 3D integration, and portability demanded by 5G electronic systems packaging requirements.

Cost-effective next-generation material trends

There is a perception that ceramic technology is exotic and expensive; however, the immense scale of the 5G market is pushing ceramics material suppliers to develop lower cost multi-layer ceramics and metal pastes. For example, a new company has developed a next-generation powder that replaces standard gold and silver pastes and provides the same performance at a significantly lower cost. This cost

reduction of LTCC material systems and the continuous developments in the design and manufacturing of microwave modules in LTCC are allowing electronics manufacturers to add multi-layer co-fired ceramic technology to their production processes. Robust microwave performance and the high thermal conductivity needed for telecom, avionics and radar applications are provided by these packages. Next-generation disruptive materials, especially core-shell powders, will allow lower-cost manufacturing of previousaly expensive LTCC modules.

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Another next-generation material trend is low-temperature joining (LTJ) materials, which are also being developed by the materials supply chain to replace high-temperature solders for power semiconductor devices. The LTJ materials reflow at 200°C (or lower) and then operate at a sustained temperature above 250°C. 

Moving into consumer markets

For certain applications, the perception of “expensive” has been proven wrong by successful implementation of antennas in LTCC in handsets. Another example is the successful adoption of LTCC for automotive applications, an industry that is extremely cost-sensitive with a drive for lowest cost manufacturing. For other large-volume consumer type applications, the technology may initially prove to be too expensive, but with the ongoing cost reduction of LTCC material systems this barrier is expected to be removed soon.

The cost/performance of multi-layer ceramic interconnection technology has earned its place in the consumer electronics market. It is a mature production technology with a growing global infrastructure that will continue to grow, not in the least because of the need for this technology in the 5G devices market where demanding performance requirements such as uniform electrical properties over a broad frequency range (applications proven to 100 GHZ) are required in analogue, digital, microwave and optical applications.

Technology convergence/SIP

Application/technology convergence is driving cost, size and performance of IC packages. Module and system-in-package (SIP) solutions are being implemented and multi-layer ceramic interconnection has come to the forefront as multiple technologies are needed to encompass all aspects of modularization.

SIP architectures based on LTCC construction will help drive development of 5G devices. The feasibility of fine-pitch LTCC for flip chip device mounting and stacked die has been demonstrated with a combination of technologies that incorporate thick-film screen printing, ink-jet, post-fired thin film processes in conjunction with laser-drilled fine vias that produce high-density, miniaturized substrates. This same architecture, with capability for buried cavities and channels, allows for fluid-cooled LTCC devices and MEMS device construction with a variety of new applications in fuel cells and life science (DNA/blood testing). Technologies including electronics with 3D mechanical structures (MEMS integration) are in development.

Roadmapping ceramic substrates & photovoltaic technology

The 2017 iNEMI Roadmap includes a chapter on ceramic substrates and photovoltaic technology. This chapter, provided by the International Microelectronics and Packaging Society (IMAPS), looks at several ceramic substrate technologies, including thick-film, high- and low-temperature co-fired, thin film, pure copper metallization on ceramic, and lead-free thick film. It discusses the status of technologies and identifies trends, future directions, paradigm shifts and key infrastructure issues. Additionally, the materials, processes and supply chain that are well developed for ceramic interconnect continue to be applied to enable dynamic growth in the photovoltaic industry. Therefore, the chapter also includes a section that summarizes crystalline silicon solar cell design, fabrication and testing. Get more information about the 2017 iNEMI Roadmap.      

Howard Imhof
Written by Howard Imhof
Howard is CEO of Silicon Valley Materials Technology Corp. (SVMT), which specializes in next-generation precious and non-precious metal powder products for paste formulators in technology-driven applications. Prior to co-founding SVMT, he managed the Advanced Coatings, Powders & Flakes, and the Precious Metal Chemicals business units for Metalor Technologies USA. Howard is a past president of IMAPS and is Chair of the Ceramic Substrates & Photovoltaic Technology chapter of the iNEMI Roadmap.

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