While 3D IC integration folks are still scratching their heads trying to determine who will take on post-fab processes, over in the 3D packaging world Imbera has taken ownership of the supply chain issues facing the OSATS-to-PCB assembly end of the line for embedded active and passive technologies.

But let’s back up a bit. It’s well known that 3D configurations have existed in the packaging space for quite some time. In fact, package-on-package (PoP) options from the likes of Amkor, STATS ChipPAC, and ASE are already in volume production. Additionally, various embedded technologies such as the Fraunhofer’s chip-in-polymer (CiP), GE’s solderless “chips first” approach, IMEC’s ultra-thin chip package (UTCP), and Imbera’s integrated module board (IMB) technology all offer viable 3D technology solutions, at least in theory. Unfortunately, manufacturing these embedded 3D packages falls into that elusive “no-man’s-land” between OSATS and EMS providers, and therefore have been stalled at the “who’s-going-to-do-it” phase. (see: Executive Panel Addresses Options in WLP)

Luckily, thanks to USD $15M in series B funding from NorthZone Ventures, Index Ventures and Conor Venture Partners, Imbera is now positioned to do something about those pesky supply chain issues.

Risto Tuominen, CTO of Imbera, talked to me about the how the company intends to put the money to use. “There are lots of embedded technologies in development,” notes Tuominen, “but nobody is able to offer a full turnkey solution for an embedded technology supply chain.” Imbera’s intention is to merge packaging and PCB processes into one entity, beginning with a new high-volume manufacturing operation in Sangsong-ri, South Korea.

Although Japanese PCB manufacturer Ibiden licensed IMB technology in July 2008, Tuominen says the company’s focus over the last year has been to create its own manufacturing solutions. The goal is for the customers to provide the known-good die (KDG) and Imbera outputs the completed device – whether it is a QFN, BGA, system-in-package (SiP), or system-in-board (SIB).

The latest milestone was a joint venture (iDD) completed with Korean PCB manufacturer Daeduck in Q3 2008. “Daeduck offers a whole PCB infrastructure with proven capabilities in substrate and motherboard manufacturing.” He explained, “There’s a whole technology portfolio we can utilize.” It sure makes more sense than buying a PCB manufacturer. As part of the iDD joint venture, the new facility (owned 60% by Imbera and 40% by Daeduck) will be outfitted with new equipment.

The biggest question was how they managed to get funding now, given the current state of the industry and economy? For the past few years, Imbera has focused on developing a new business model, which included acquiring a new capital owner base in 2007; appointing a new CEO acquired in late 2007; and relaunching Imbera in early 2008, based on the new model. “We’re very fortunate to have the investors that we have,” said Tuominen, “We didn’t have to change a thing.”

That said, Tuominen was happy to share the secrets of Imbera’s success. He said it’s important to show a roadmap with technology improvements going forward, and that the benefits needed to be apparent from the outset. Everything must be of the highest quality, and that the customer can use it without changing existing infrastructure or design tools. “In the end, the technology needs to provide an efficient manufacturing solution,” he noted, “and you need to be able to show a cost reduction.”

But most importantly, rather than passing the buck, Imbera is taking ownership of the OSAT/PCB assembly bottleneck. Let’s hope other sectors of the 3D market find inspiration in this company’s achievements. – F.v.T

Francoise von Trapp

They call me the “Queen of 3D” because I have been following the course of…

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