Since the beginning of the mobile phone industry, handset manufacturers have been working on ways to reducing the thickness of chip packaging, achieve greater integration and cut manufacturing costs. Amongst numerous approaches, PoP1 technology has been massively adopted for smartphones and tablets to make a stack containing the application processor and DRAM.
This year, Apple went further, with a new wafer-level PoP solution based on TSMC technology, called ‘integrated Fan-Out PoP’ or inFO-PoP. This announcement has strongly affected the advanced packaging industry. A new day has come, where fan-out platforms will play the leading role, bringing significant changes to the value and supply chains. You can look deep inside Apple’s technology with the help of System Plus Consulting, sister company of Yole Développement (Yole), in its latest reverse engineering analysis of the Apple A10 inFO-PoP.
A year ago, TSMC decided to invest in a fan-out packaging production line to supply Apple with the innovative inFO-PoP advanced packaging platform. With this strategic move, TSMC has secured its position in the Apple ecosystem and its participation in iPhone 7 and A10 application processor development.
A10 inFO package cross-section
(Source: TSMC Integrated Fan-Out (inFO) Package in Apple's A10 Application Processor, October 2016, System Plus Consulting)
TSMC has the opportunity to make history by making fan-out packaging one of the key success stories of the advanced packaging industry. “Driven by TSMC’s inFO solution, fan-out technology is at a turning point,” comments Jérôme Azemar, Technology & Market Analyst from Yole. “Apple’s involvement will clearly bring great interest to the fan-out platform. Revenues from fan-out activity should reach about US$2.5billion in 2021, with 80% growth between 2015 and 2017.”2
FOWLP3 began volume commercialization in 2009/2010, with the initial push coming from Intel Mobile. That was a promising start, but limited to a narrow range of applications – essentially single die packages for cell phone baseband chips – and few customers. Later on, in 2012, big fabless wireless/mobile players started slowly to require volume production after qualifying the technology across a broader scope of applications including RF4 applications, audio codecs, and power management. This growth made the market worth around US$244 million in 2015. Today, with Apple and its A10 processor, the market is set to explode.
But this is not the only impact. The technical choice to remove manufacturing steps related to flip-chip processes including flux cleaning and underfill and the use of a laminate substrate eliminates a significant part of the cost of PoP. That means significant sales value for substrate makers and materials makers has just disappeared. This will lead to a supply chain transition, with TSMC now increasingly delivering packaging services, and other key supply chain players potentially facing big revenue decreases. According to our first estimates, more than $150M worth of revenue has vanished. There has been no change of supplier, or transfer to another production line, just no more business.
Thanks to TSMC’s inFO-PoP platform, Apple is now able to offer an application processor with very thin packaging. System Plus Consulting’s team discovered it is less than 0.3 mm thick, with better memory integration. “The 3D component developed by TSMC and Apple impressively cuts thickness by 30% compared to traditional PoP-based systems such as Samsung’s Exynos 8 processor or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820™ processor, which is packaged with Shinko’s MCeP5 and copper solder ball technology6”, comments Stéphane Elisabeth, RF and Advanced Packaging Cost Engineer at System Plus Consulting.
Apple’s A10 processor also costs significantly less, as TSMC has exploited inFO technology’s capabilities as a WLP7 platform to do away with expensive manufacturing stages. In its new Apple A10 reverse engineering and costing report, System Plus Consulting details the technologies selected by both Apple and TSMC. System Plus has analyzed the related benefits, such as a very high thermal dissipation, integration of silicon passive components underneath the package, and much more. Moreover, the report includes a comprehensive comparison with both the Exynos 8 and the Snapdragon 820 application processors.
With TSMC’s large investments in FOWLP and its inFO technology, the WLP landscape has changed: PoP integration for complex applications is now possible with fan-out packaging platforms in large volumes.
In parallel with the A10 analysis, Yole and System Plus’s partner KnowMade has analyzed the fan-out advanced packaging platform patent landscape, including TSMC’s strategic positioning. “Some TSMC patents mention a polymer layer just beneath the IC embedded in the package”, says Nicolas Baron, KnowMade Founder and CEO. This is what System Plus Consulting’s experts have seen in their Apple A10 report.
Why did TSMC decide to introduce this layer into the A10 package? Are there any technical advantages? Does it allow TSMC to simplify manufacturing steps and reduce costs? Or is it, beyond a technical approach, a patent strategy? Yole Développement, System Plus Consulting and KnowMade are already getting the answers to these questions, and will continue their investigations.
Detailed information about Yole Développement, System Plus Consulting and KnowMade reports is available on i-micronews.com, in the reports section.
1 PoP: Package-on-Package
2 Source : “Fan-out: Technology & Market Trends 2016” report, Yole Développement, August 2016
3 FOWLP : Fan-Out Wafer Level Packaging
4 RF : Radio frequency
5 MCeP : Molded Core embedded Package
6 Source : "Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Processor Packages: Qualcomm/Shinko’s MCeP vs. Samsung’s PoP" report, System Plus Consulting, June 2016
7 WLP : Wafer Level Packaging
Jérôme Azémar is a member of the Advanced Packaging & Manufacturing team of Yole Développement, the "More than Moore" market research and strategy consulting company. Upon graduating from INSA Toulouse with a master’s in Microelectronics and Applied Physics, he joined ASML and worked in Veldhoven for three years as an Application Support Engineer, specializing in immersion scanners. During this time he acquired Photolithography skills which he then honed over a two-year stint as a Process Engineer at STMicroelectronics. While with STMicroelectronics, he developed new processes, co-authored an international publication and worked on metrology structures embedded on reticules before joining Yole Développement in 2013.
Dr Stéphane Elisabeth has joined our team this year. He has a deep knowledge of Materials characterizations and Electronics systems. He holds an Engineering Degree in Electronics and Numerical Technology, and a PhD in Materials for Microelectronics.
Dr. Nicolas Baron is CEO and co-founder of Knowmade. He is leading the Microelectonics and Nanotechnology scientific and patent analysis department. He holds a PhD in Physics from the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis, plus a University Diploma in Intellectual Property Strategy and Innovation from the European Institute for Enterprise and Intellectual Property (IEEPI Strasbourg), France.
Fan-Out: Technologies & Market Trends 2016
Fan-Out packaging: the most dynamic advanced packaging platform. Will it be sustainable long-term? - More
TSMC Integrated Fan-Out (inFO) Package in Apple’s A10 Application Processor
Reverse engineering and costing of the new inFO packaging technology from TSMC used for Apple’s latest A10 application processor, found in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus - More
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