My post about Imbera’s achievements the other day reminded me of another supply chain success story I’ve been meaning to talk about. Last month at IMAPS Global Business Council, Marc Robinson of Vertical Circuits (VCI) shared how the start-up has successfully taken on an industry workhorse, (wire bond for die stacking) with an alternative that with something completely new and also cost-effective. VCI’s core technology is a “virtual via” interconnect that involves jet-dispensing silver filled polymer conformal conductive polymer up the edge of a chip stack to vertically connect bond pads.
Let’s face it, bringing an innovative process into volume production in the semiconductor industry is not a quick or easy task. This is a tough crowd we’re dealing with – very set in their ways. The message is clear – those that succeed the fastest are those that tend to leverage existing infrastructure, because any new process that also requires a new toolset is going to take a while to catch on. (Take IBM’S C4NP for wafer bumping, for example – great concept and an elegant, cost effective process, but required SUSS MicroTec to develop a completely new line of equipment. To date – the only install I’m aware of is at IBM’s facility in Fishkill, NY – please somebody correct me if I’m wrong!)
So how has VCI succeeded where others have been waylaid? According to Robinson, the first time out of the gate wasn’t so successful because they hadn’t taken the power of the existing supply chain seriously. They realized quickly they would have to fit its existing infrastructure conveniently to be adopted. “Until there was a supporting supply chain in place, it fell on doubting ears,” noted Robinson. This meant partnering with supply chain people —equipment and materials suppliers—and subsequently demonstrating how the process reduces the number of steps and the number of machines in the factory so that however the manufacturer looked at it, they would see the advantage. The message to device manufacturers: it’s not going to cost you more to adopt this technology.
So VCI developing partnerships with well-established equipment and materials suppliers such as Asymtek, Lord Corporation, Disco, SCS, and Resonetics, and then approached IDMS and OSATS for commercialization and IP licenses as a group. “We’ve signed a number of licenses now because we addressed them as a team,” noted Robinson. The equipment and material supply chain partners helped to convince customers that the supply chain is ready for adoption of VCI’s technology. Additionally, when they changed to a partnership approach, material and equipment suppliers also benefited, and VCI became successful in its endeavor.
All of these efforts have resulted in a process that has been implemented into micro SD cards. They are reportedly achieving 8 die stacks at 200µm pitch; more than enough for memory in a smaller footprint than wire bond. The company reports that the technology has been licensed to IDMs and OSATS (but can’t say who).
Although success didn’t come overnight – Robinson says he’s been working with this technology for 12 years – it’s still relatively quick in semiconductor years. (Consider that it took flip chip over 40 years to reach high-volume production). The important lesson is that the best way to succeed in this industry is with an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach. It’s something to think about. – F.v.T