Apple selected substrate-like PCBs for its latest iPhones. Who’s next?

Apple selected substrate-like PCBs for its latest iPhones. Who’s next?

The semiconductor industry’s trends are affecting the semiconductor package and package-to-board interconnect level. Performance-driven applications like PCs and smartphones are giving way to functional applications that are plotting the semiconductor industry’s future course. Internet of Things (IoT), the automotive market, 5G connectivity, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and artificial intelligence (AI) are part of them. In this context, advanced semiconductor packaging is seen as a way to increase the value of a semiconductor product by adding functionality, maintaining/increasing performance, and lowering cost – and to this end, the printed circuit board (PCBs) is not just an interconnection anymore but also an integration solution.

The market research and strategy consulting company Yole Développement (Yole) pursues its investigations within the advanced substrates world and explores market and technologies of PCBs, integrated circuit (IC) substrates and embedded die in a laminate. A new technology & market report, Status of Advanced Substrate 2018: Embedded Dies & Interconnects, Substrates like PCB Trends is now available and reveals the latest innovations and business challenges. It provides segmentation per types of substrates, by players and business models. It proposes a technology roadmap with competition zones and overlaps. In addition, this report assesses future developments with main players, supply chain description, market forecasts, drivers, emerging applications as well as a detailed financial analysis.

According to Yole’s analysts, Apple’s usage of substrate-like PCBs (SLP) in the latest iPhone 8 and X will revolutionize the substrate and PCB markets. What is the status of such technologies? What will be the evolution of this market? How will evolve the supply chain, especially for substrate manufacturers? Yole invites you to discover the latest technology and market trends.

“Advanced substrates must answer demands on both the scaling and functional roadmaps”, asserts Emilie Jolivet, Technology & Market Analyst at Yole. On the scaling roadmap, three competition zones are active below the 30/30µm line width/space:

  • Board vs. package substrate: between L/S 30/30µm and L/S 20/20µm: leading to SLP
  • Package substrate vs. no substrate with fan-out (FO) platforms: around L/S 10/10µm and sub-L/S 10/10µ: flip-chip (FC) substrates, embedded die in panel level packaging (PLP) substrate, competing with fan-out wafer level packaging (FOWLP)/PLP.
  • Through silicon via (TSV) packaging vs. TSV-less packaging alternatives (between L/S 5/5µm and L/S 1/1µm, possibly lower): 2.5D (i.e. Si interposer) configurations vs. high-density FO.

The functional roadmap for advanced substrates is linked to devices that do not primarily require interconnect scaling but must satisfy particular demands such as high frequency, high reliability, higher power, etc. Such advanced packaging types include RF system-in-package (SiPs) for 5G mmWave and embedded die-in-substrate for higher reliability/power applications.

Yole’s analysts announce a clash of two worlds: “The transition from the subtractive to the modified semi-additive process (mSAP) and from PCB to substrate-like PCB is underway in high-end smartphones, driven by Apple and its iPhone 8/iPhone X,” explains Emilie Jolivet from Yole. “Other high-end smartphone suppliers such as Samsung and Huawei are expected to join in the near future.”

SLP is a term that attempts to describe the transition of a board into a product with package-substrate-like features. Standard high density interconnect (HDI) and non-HDI boards use variations of the subtractive manufacturing process, while package substrates such as FC, wire bond (WB), chip scale package (CSP)/ ball grid array (BGA) use mSAP or SAP. SLP is, in fact, a large substrate, manufactured in mSAP, in the size and function of a board. The benefits of an SLP compared to a standard or HDI board include higher line resolution, better electrical performance, and the potential for space and energy-saving, which are very important in a cramped, energy-limited smartphone environment.

SLP’s entry opens a new market and disrupts the supply chain. The SLP market is estimated at US$1.9 billion in 2016 and US$2.24 billion by 2023, with a 64% CAGR between 2017 and 2023. SLP manufacturing will not just recover the PCB and substrate market, but also give it a significant boost. However, from a technology-readiness point of view, although the mSAP process is mature for processing package substrate, considerable challenges still exist for manufacturing substrates in PCB-size.

To complete its market and technology approach, Yole’s team makes a special focus on the financial activities in PCB/substrate manufacturing and other areas including revenue details, CAPEX, profit and players ranking. Therefore, with SLP’s appearance in Apple’s latest iPhones, PCB and substrate manufacturers have started producing SLP and investing in mSAP.“ The 28 selected PCB/substrate manufacturers [1] are all believed to have mSAP technology, and some of them can manufacture SLP,” comments Vivienne Hsu, Technology & Market Analyst and part of the advanced packaging team at Yole. And she adds: “Driven by high-end smartphone demand, certain players appear to have high capital expenditures. Meanwhile, some large players show steady revenue in their PCB/substrate business.”

Yole’s financial analysis points out the importance of the Chinese players: more than one-third of the top 100 PCB/Substrate manufacturers are from China, showing the highest growth with more than 18% from 2015 to 2016. Despite their numerical superiority in the top 100, Chinese companies drop to the third with respect to revenue… A detailed description of the Status of Advanced Substrates report is available on i-micronews.com, advanced packaging reports section.

Within its “advanced substrate” activity, Yole aims to connect the landscapes of boards and IC substrates. Analysts identify and analyze all-day long competitive and overlapping technologies and propose detailed roadmaps. They analyze the market to get a comprehensive understanding of the supply chain and business model shifts and perform market forecasts and market shares. Through these activities, the company discloses market dynamics and disruptions, plus financial information. The analysis of the embedded die package challenge is also part of these activities and is well detailed in the new Advanced Substrates report, released this month.

Yole Group of Companies including Yole Développement, System Plus Consulting and Knowmade, presents its latest results during a dedicated webcast, Advanced Substrates – How to answer demands on scaling and functional roadmaps?.This live event takes place on March 28 at 5.00 PM CET and is sponsored by AT&S. Detailed agenda & registration on i-micronews.com, webcasts section.

In addition, the Group proposes its annual Advanced Packaging & System Integration Technology Symposium taking place on June 20 & 21 in Wuxi, China. Full program and list of speakers will come soon on NCAP & Yole Développement symposium.

Stay tuned with Yole’s advanced packaging team, to discover future technology & market analyses and attend future presentations.

[1] Including top 20 manufacturers (by 2016 PCB/substrate activity revenue – in US$ million) plus a selection of companies – Details are available in the report.

Source: www.yole.fr