Ever since I got involved in the world of advanced packaging, and particularly 3D, I’ve had a soft spot for start-ups. Everyone who reads my blog knows that. So it’s no surprise that I’ve had Ziptronix on my radar since the first press tour in 2007. I was impressed by the elegance of their low temperature covalent bond process back then and have been waiting for their rocket to take off. The Raytheon license that came back in 2009 was the last notable activity I’d seen. So naturally when last week’s announcement of Ziptronix license agreement with Sony was announced, I was eager for details. CEO Dan Donabedian and Paul Enquist, CTO, were only happy to comply and called me from SEMICON Taiwan, where things seem to be hopping, to bring me up to date.
Donabedian explained that despite the lack of press since the Raytheon license, there’s been a lot going on internally. “We’ve been working to move into the commercial sector, and have been focused on image sensing,” he said. “We’re pleased that Sony has chosen Ziptronix’ direct bonding technology for their backside illumination (BSI) image sensors, and we believe our technology will help them.” Enquist said Sony was one of first to do BSI with adhesives, the only competing technology. But there is distortion involved with that process. Direct bonding at low temperatures gives lowest distortion, smaller pixels and higher resolution, and Sony recognizes the value in being the first to offer that.
If you’re not familiar with Ziptronix technology, here’s a little background info: the company has two products available for license; Zibond and Direct Bond Interconnect (DBI). The Zibond process enables a direct oxide bond at low temperature that is much stronger than achievable with Van Der Waals forces. It is intended purely for the purposes of bonding either two wafers together of for stacking die to wafers, and has no metal involved. DBI, on the other hand, incorporates metal into the process to allow for the formation of connections. Both processes are adaptable to TSV technologies for 3D IC, regardless of how the TSV is formed (via last, mid, or first).
The current licensing deal with Sony currently only involves the Zibond process for backside image sensors for digital still and video cameras, and cell phone cameras. Donabedian and Enquist both believe that in image sensor technology, BSI is becoming industry standard. “By implementing BSI with ZiBond, you get an image sensor that has ultra-low distortion, enabling the smallest pixels, a smaller foot print and thinner profile. We believe it’s only a matter of time before all of it goes from FSI to BSI,” noted Enquist, adding that Yole has predicted this, and it seems to be happening well ahead of what the analysts are saying.
Sony is the first licensing agreement in the consumer application space for Ziptronix, but Donabedian and Enquist anticipate that more will come quickly. They expect that a second generation of image sensing will require DBI technology to interconnect the sensor to the logic die. Other applications that could potentially see significant advantages with Ziptronix processes include memory, micro processors, pico projectors, mixed-signal and LEDS. “Clearly there are a number of applications coming to the forefront using our tech. we’re psyched about that,” noted Enquist. Donabedian concurs. “It was just a matter of time before the market caught up with Ziptronix,” said Donabedian. But isn’t that always the way with start-ups? Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if those Ziptronix press releases start pouring in. We’ll keep you posted! — F.v.T.