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Chip Scale Review September • October • 2019


The rising adoption of advanced substrates:

IC substrate, SLP and embedded die

By Mario Ibrahim

[Yole Développement]

n t h i s p e r i o d , w i t h t h e

semiconductor market facing

a slowdown and compet it ion

becoming rough, substrate manufacturers

are looking to differentiate themselves

f r om e a c h o t h e r . Mo r e o v e r , t h e

requirements of the existing markets

are pushing industries that previously

a s s ume d a pa s sive r ole r ega r d i ng

innovation, like substrate manufacturing,

to become more involved.

In the last few years, the market backed

the development of advanced technology

to better answer the demands of the mega

trends, such as automotive, 5G, artificial

intelligence (AI) and others. This resulted

in a profitable business as advanced

packaging platforms became the perfect

solut ion for si z e r educ t ion , wh i le

increasing performance and integration.

Driven by this success story, substrate

makers are keen on reproducing this

phenomenon within their own businesses.

Let u s not ove rly d r amat i ze t he

substrate makers’ situation. They are

still profitable, but are willing to be

even more so while reducing their risk.

Non-advanced substrate manufacturing

still represents the major portion of the

activities and revenue of the so-called

printed circuit board (PCB) houses. The

innovation in the number of stacked layers

is continuing within the conventional

board business. The differentiating factor

in this industry, however, is coming from

somewhere else, and it is from what

we at Yole Développement (Yole) call

“advanced substrate” activities. We focus

on three major platforms and technologies

within the advanced substrate category

(others exist, but are not discussed here):

• Ad v a n c e d i n t e g r a t e d c i r c u i t

(IC) substrate: this serves as the

interconnection between an IC chip

and a board (intermediate layer),

i nclud i ng f l ip - ch ip ch ip - s ca le

package (FCCSP) and flip-chip ball

grid array (FCBGA) substrates;

• Substrate-like PCB (SLP): this serves

as an advanced board onto which

chips are mounted; and

• Embedded die (ED): this serves as

a stacking technology whereby dies

are embedded into a board, substrate

or mold.

If we combine the revenue of the above

three platforms, they will represent

more than $11B by 2024 exhibiting a



of more than 13%. This

is much higher than the forecast 4%

growth for the conventional PCB market

over the same forecast period [1]. That

growth illustrates the interest the players

and countries have in going deeper and

further into developing such advanced

technologies. This also implies efforts to

improve manufacturing processes. We

observe a push from major players such

as ZD Tech and AT&S to switch from a

subtractive process to a modified semi-

additive process (mSAP), or a semi-

additive process (SAP). This action

will enable reduced line/space (L/S)

dimensions and thereby provide more

f lexibility on the footprint, together

with more integration. With the coming

of the 5G, AI, vehicle autonomy and

ele c t r i f ic a t ion ma r ke t s – w it hou t

fo r ge t t i ng mobi le – t he a dva nc e d

substrate platforms have interesting

prospects ahead.

Business opportunities for

advanced IC substrates

S t a r t i n g i n 2 018 , Hu awe i a n d

ZT E h a v e b e e n g o i n g a l l - o u t t o

strengthen their capabilities for the

upcoming 5G era by placing orders

with supply chai n par t ners earlier.

AMD, NVIDIA a nd I nt el a r e a l so

stepping up to capture new business

oppor t unities for high-performance

computing (HPC) application chipsets.

Outsourced semiconductor assembly

a n d t e s t s u p p l i e r s (OSAT S ) a r e

p r oje c t i ng i nc r e a s ed dema nd s fo r

FCBGA adopt ion i n AI processor s

for automotive applications. At the

end of 2018, the market was unable to

meet the demand for FCBGA due to

overwhelming demands from 5G base

stations and HPC.

It seems t hat t he FCBGA supply

chain was not expecting such a strong

new demand f rom 5G players. As a

result, the average selling price (ASP)

of advanced IC substrates for FCBGA

applications rose, which pushed players

like Kinsus and Unimicron to further

boost t hei r product ion capacit y i n

orde r t o meet t he demand . AT&S,

the Austrian substrate manufacturer,

announced very recently the expansion

of its IC substrates business for HPC by

investing nearly $1B in a new plant in

Chongqing, and capacity expansion at

the Leoben plant [2].

C u r r e n t l y, t h e ma j o r i t y o f t h e

demands are coming from Huawei’s

5G activities. So, in order to reduce

t he i r r i s k , a dva nc e d IC s ub s t r a t e

ma n u f a c t u r e r s a r e d e v e l o p i n g a

broad customer por tfolio to prevent

relying on a single major player. Some

manufacturers have had their products

pass validations by Nokia and Ericsson

as par t of their effor ts to enter 5G

markets in Europe and the U.S.

The demand for FCCSP substrates,

w h i c h i s m a i n l y d r i v e n b y t h e

smartphone market, is continuing to

grow, even if it is slowing down on

account of the sluggish outlook for

smartphones. Nevertheless, a switch

from wire bond into FCCSP with Cu

pil la r bumpi ng is ongoi ng for PC/

laptop dynamic random access memory

(DRAM) and server double data rate

(DDR) DRAM. Samsung has already

migrated to this substrate type, while it

is still a work in progress for SK Hynix

and Micron, which are expected to start

soon. In addition, some 5G RF chips

and power amplifiers are also shifting