My father was a small town doctor back in the days when his area of specialty was simply called “general practitioner”. His doctor’s office was connected to our family home, and as a result, our family life and his professional world were tightly intertwined. Emergency cases showed up at our kitchen door – often times neighborhood boys with fishhooks embedded in various extremities. The office was outfitted with nifty devices like a microscope for examining tissue samples, an autoclave for sterilizing instruments, and even a diathermy machine for treating chronic arthritis, bursitis, and other conditions. He had a physician’s bag that held his diagnostic tools of the trade – stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, thermometer, otoscope, tongue depressors, syringes, throat culture swabs – the works. He was among the rare breed of doctors that still made house calls. Office visits cost $5.00.
So it’s no surprise that I have developed a certain fascination with the rapidly growing market for medical electronics devices, and the impact technology advancements in the semiconductor industry have on this sector of the electronics industry. Last week’s 2-day Medical Electronics Symposium, co-presented by MEPTEC and the SMTA, at Arizona State University, in Tempe, gave me the opportunity to bone up on the latest achievements, challenges, and the impact these drivers will have on market adoption of 3D integration technologies.
The overall sentiment was one of widespread optimism for growth driven by the trend toward “personalized” medicine that calls for reduced invasivenenss, remote patient management, preventative and restorative care. However, I also got a dose of reality when I realized the time it takes in this rigorously regulated sector to go from design to market with the latest innovation. Therefore, It was a bit of a surprise to discover that what is somewhat old news for consumer applications is just being considered breakthrough technologies for medical applications. For example, stacked package configurations like package-on-package (PoP) reached volume production for cell phone applications in the past few years, but are considered a recent advancement in medical applications. OK, makes sense. After all, reliability issues are a bit more critical when you’re dealing with a pacemaker then a cell phone. As day two keynoter Paul Gerrish, director of technology development at Medtronic succinctly noted, it takes a long time to get things to the marketplace, but that doesn’t diminish the amount of opportunity that exists.
So while most of the presentations focused on showcasing end-products available in the market today, and the impact they will have on the cost and availability of healthcare, as well as the cultural and economic impact, there was also some discussion about emerging technologies, and challenges yet to be met in order to implement them fully. Speaking in general terms about 3D, day one keynote speaker, Peter Totorici, Ph.D., process development manager at Medtronic Microelectronics said “Advances in 3D packaging and silicon integration will continue to be investigated and used by device manufacturers.”
Gerrish pointed out that implantable devices will be a leading application for integrated 3D systems. He noted that mobile phone technology is aligned with the direction implantable devices are going. “We know how to pack ICs densely. Other components need to be involved,” he said. “There’s a lot of work going on to apply wafer processes to non-traditional devices.” He talked about planarization, and the removal of legacy packaging (“double bagging”) that doesn’t add to the efficiency of the products. He noted some emerging interconnect and packaging processes that are driving miniaturization. You might recognize them: Vertical Circuits, 3D Plus, Ziptronix. Additionally, one quiet player, Sound Design Technologies, particularly caught my attention with its proprietary 3D vertical interconnect process. (Look for a dedicated in-depth on this later in the week).
These advancements bring to reality an entire “network of care” beyond just the devices that combines device therapy with wireless communication technology to literally change the approach to the delivery of care itself. According to Steve Kennelly, who leads the medical products group for Microchip Technology, the future of primary healthcare will be virtual, relying on diagnostic home devices to evaluate conditions. Imagine, if you will, feeling under the weather and rather than scheduling a visit to your primary care physician for evaluation (and potential exposure to a host of other viruses thriving in the waiting room), you rely on a consumer diagnostic home device that evaluates your condition and transmits data via the internet to your doctor’s office or alternate complementary healthcare facility outside the home. The doctor can then remotely prescribe the required therapy for managing your condition. This is the virtual house call of the future. It’s ironic that technology has taken us full circle, back to the days of healthcare coming to you, instead of you going to it. My father would like this. – F.v.T.