How can advanced substrates and boards bridge the gap created by front-end scaling?
Advanced substrates as a key enabler of future products and markets
In an uncertain, transformative semiconductor market, advanced packaging is one of the key technologies offering stability and a long-term solution. On one hand it can adapt to product diversification, offering more functionality, system integration, and performance, as well as potentially lower manufacturing cost; and on the other hand it can adhere to future scaling requirements. Advanced substrates are the key interconnect component of advanced packaging architectures and are critical in enabling future products and markets. For this reason, Yole has established this stand-alone dedicated advanced substrate activity, focused on exploring the market and technologies of PCBs, package substrates and RDLs. This first report will serve as an overview of advanced substrate technologies, markets, and supply chain, to be supported by subsequent in-depth reports.
Today’s advanced substrates in volume are Flip Chip (FC) substrates, 2.5D/3D TSV assemblies, and thin-film RDLs (Fan-Out WLP, or “FOWLP”) below an L/S resolution of 15/15 um and with transition below L/S < 10/10 um. These advanced substrates are traditionally linked to higher-end logic (CPUs/GPUs, DSPs, etc.) driven by ICs in the latest technology nodes in the computing, networking, mobile, and high-end consumer market segments (gaming, HD/Smart TV). However, due to additional form factor and low power demands, WLP and advanced FC substrates are also widespread in majority of smartphone functions: application processors, baseband, transceivers, filters, amplifiers, WiFi modules, drivers, codecs, power management, etc.
Future higher-end products will require package substrates with L/S < 10/10 um and boards with L/S < 30/30 um. These demands have given rise to three distinct competition areas, as depicted in figure 1:
- Board vs. IC substrate
- IC substrate vs. FOWLP
- FOWLP vs. 2.5D/3D packaging
This overview report proposes a common terminology for diverse substrate architectures and provides an advanced substrate segmentation, followed by in-depth analysis of advanced substrate drivers, markets and dynamics, the three competition areas, current and future substrate technologies and architectures, supply chain, player positioning, business models shifts, and advanced substrate market forecasts (2015 - 2021).
Three distinct competitive areas, as a consequence of scaling
The board vs. FC substrate area is characterized by the transition from the subtractive to the mSAP process, and competition between board and substrate manufacturers. Evaluation of “substrate-like PCBs” is already under way at OEMs, and so too the potential new integration opportunities they could bring. Furthermore, developments in FC substrate, FOWLP, and 2.5D/3D packaging have created an immense competitive arena for L/S < 10/10 um packaging, with a large variety of solutions coming from business models across the supply chain: IDMs, foundries, OSATs, WLP houses, substrate manufacturers, and EMS. As shown in figure 2, the transition to substrates for ICs below L/S < 10/10 um has begun, led by application processors/basebands in FOWLP and advanced FC substrates in mobile, and the first GPUs in 2.5D/3D TSV configuration. The “below L/S < 10/10 um” advanced substrate roadmap is open, with intense R&D underway and each manufacturer developing strategies and targets for their respective solutions.
This report offers a detailed analysis of applications that will scale below L/S < 10/10 um by 2020, the limitations and advantages of competing technologies, and links the applications to prospective advanced substrate solutions and their providers.
Advanced substrate solutions - fueling tomorrow’s markets
FOWLP and 2.5D/3D platforms are the advanced packaging platforms with the highest growth, boasting revenue CAGRs of 49% and 43% respectively from 2015 - 2021. The Fan-Out platform is forecast to exceed $2.5B in packaging services revenue by 2021, while the 2.5D/3D platform is expected to surpass $1B in the same timeframe. The Flip Chip packaging platform holds 85% of the advanced packaging market, but regardless of its solid 5% CAGR, it is losing market share to FO WLP resulting in a drop to 76% by 2021. The fast-rising FOWLP platform is ambitiously developing higher density solutions while at the same time facing more competition from advanced FC and hybrid FC solutions. Though the FC substrate market exhibited a dip in 2016 due to further adoption of Fan-Out (lead by TSMC inFO, it is expected to bounce back with mild growth at a 1.6% revenue CAGR. This can be split into a 3.6% FC CSP CAGR and a stagnating 0.6% FC BGA CAGR. Overall, FC substrate revenue is expected to exceed $8B by 2021.
Technology evolution and its impact on supply chain shifts
The competitive areas of boards, substrates, and thin-film RDLs are directly linked to the underlying technologies used. Board manufacturers are representatives of the subtractive process, which is hard to scale beyond L/S 30/30 um. Meanwhile, substrate manufacturers have experience with SAP and mSAP processes that can lead to larger substrates and potentially “substrate-like PCBs”, but at higher cost. On the other side, when competing with FOWLP, FC substrates have a cost advantage but FOWLP scales faster. This report compares the main processes and technologies used, discusses the limitations, advantages, and opportunities for each process, and provides roadmaps for FC substrates and thin-film RDLs (FOWLP). Competitive technologies, scaling, system-level integration (SiP), and market uncertainty are affecting the supply chain and triggering several observable business model shifts and expansions. While the overall semiconductor supply chain is shifting down one tier due to scaling, system-level manufacturers are expanding in both directions. A detailed analysis of main players and their rankings, strategies and business model shifts is provided in this report.
What advanced substrate solutions are present today? Which markets and applications will require advanced substrates below L/S 10/10 um, what solutions are being developed, and how does this also affect boards? What are each advanced substrate technology’s limitations and advantages, which players are taking charge of which solution, and how is the supply chain changing? Discover the answers in the Advanced Substrates Overview, Yole’s latest report!