Elementary, Mr. Watson: Advanced Packaging Not a Passing Fad

As it is said, necessity is the mother of invention. That is precisely the situation when we are discussing the PCB design industry. We are living in what can only be described as the golden age of Electronics. The advancements and innovations are growing by leaps and bounds. Never in history has the field of electronics grown at such a fantastic rate. The advance integration packages field is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting.

In 2020 the advanced packaging market was worth $24 billion. In the future, it will be more of the same; it's estimated to have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8%. That phenomenal growth is a result of the consumers' demand. They want the latest and greatest. They are expecting something better than what came out last year, what I describe as an insatiable appetite for something bigger and better with higher speeds in a smaller package, most of all inexpensive, drives our industry. It keeps us employed. This demand is on full display when Apple puts out the latest and greatest, and folks are camped out days before waiting for the release. This trend shows no signs of slowing down. Advance packaging is getting noticed by the industry as the solution to the high demand. Government legislation with the CHIPS Act focuses on domestic semiconductor fabrication. The aim should be to increase the advanced package industry into the mainstream.

Challenges with Advance Interconnect
Ever since Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments created the first hybrid IC made of Germanium in 1958, and Robert Noyce created the first monolithic IC in 1959, the IC has generally remained the same. Except for one significant difference, reducing the size of the transistors that make up every IC. What I mean by that is when Kilby and Noyce created the first ICs, the size of the transistors was 11nm. With smaller transistors, more nodes, as they are called, are in each IC.

By 1965, Gordon Moore estimated that computers' speed and capability could expect to double every two years because of increases in the number of transistors a microchip can contain. So it was a shocking statement that Moore made when he announced that a single IC would someday hold 65,000 transistors. The size of IC nodes is now being mass-produced at 5nm, which was commercially released in the Apple Bionic Chip for the A14. The transistor count now sits at a staggering 11.8 billion, a 38.8% increase from the A13's transistor count of 8.5 billion.  

It is even going smaller to 2nm by 2024. So to give you some perspective here, that is smaller than the Human DNA and would hold over 50 billion Transistors on a chip the size of a fingernail.

But before we pop the cork on the champagne, I believe we have or are very close to reaching the limits on what is physically capable of producing chips reasonably and reliably. Simply controlling the current flow in such a small area is very difficult as things shrink. In other words, we are now getting so small that we can no longer control the electrons.

We are simply running out of room. It is strongly believed by many, including CEO Jensen Huang of Nvidia, who proudly announced in 2022 that Moore's Law was dead. I am not personally at that point yet, but I will say Moore's Law is on Life Support. Although we call it a law, it was more of an observation. Even Moore agreed. In his publication Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits of April 19, 1965, admits "including micro-assembly techniques for individual components, thin film structures, and semiconductor integrated circuits. Each approached evolved and rapidly and converged." And in an interview in April 2005, Gordon Moore stated that the projection could not be sustained indefinitely: "It can't continue forever. The nature of exponentials is that you push them out, and eventually disaster happens." He also noted that transistors eventually would reach the limits of miniaturization at atomic levels:

In terms of size [of transistors], you can see that we're approaching the size of atoms which is a fundamental barrier, but it'll be two or three generations before we get that far—but that's as far out as we've ever been able to see. We have another 10 to 20 years before we reach a fundamental limit. By then, they'll be able to make bigger chips and have transistor budgets in the billions.

Yet another major problem is making all the interconnects to a high-density device to where it is a functional item on a PCB design. Conventionally that is done through wire bonds, which have not scaled down at the same pace as the transistor. With 11.8 billion transistors in a single chip, that is more processing power than wires can carry. Getting signals from the Silicon out to the real world, which connects to the PCB, is a significant issue.

Frankly, we are reaching the industry limitations in more ways than one.

A Paradigm Shift of Advance Packaging  
Occasionally it's good practice to examine how we do things. With advance packaging technology (APT), it is a new paradigm shift for the entire industry. Advanced packaging promises to solve the challenges we face. The basic definition of APT is the aggregation and interconnection of components before traditional electronic packaging. Advanced packaging allows multiple devices (electrical, mechanical, or semiconductor) to be merged and packaged as a single electronic device. They are taking different circuits that were separate chips on the PCB design before and placing them all in a single chip.

Although we are not specifically talking about applications when speaking of APT, we will find that particular packaging methods are popular with various industries. For example, high-end AI products such as smartphones and graphic processing units lean more towards 2.5D technology. The industry demands target specific applications and markets with how the various individual circuits are combined with the packaging methods.

The various methods of advanced packaging are listed below.

  • Wafer level packaging
  • 5D and 3D
  • System-in-package
  • Bumping and flip-chips
  • Chip scale packages
  • Redistribution layers
  • Embedded die substrate
  • MESM and microsystem packaging

Inherent Problems With APT
The APT comes with several inherent problems. The first is power dissipation and power use, and directly connected to that is the increase and necessity of heat dissipation. Traditionally silicon generates a lot of heat and is not thermally efficient. It is now seeing a decrease in voltages but to maintain or increase the power means an increase in current. How is this power migrated through the package and the heat dissipated? Even just a single chip can have problems with power consumption and heat. Now we combine them with other items such as in a system-in-package that also holds the microprocessor, the flash, and the SRAM all in a single chip. We’ve just increased the issue exponentially.

Known Good Die (KGD)
When combining the various individual parts, especially when designing a SiP design package, It is unknown if an individual circuit works until it is in the final package configuration. Because specific devices cannot be adequately tested beforehand, The failure rate is high and is expensive with lost production time. That is an issue known to the industry as Known Good Die. How the individual dies are tested and validated must be solved. Usually, only find out about these issues until it's too late.

Cost Issues
Most integrated circuit manufacturers' equipment is not ready for the onslaught of advance packaging. The equipment for such a process is highly specialized and expensive. This specialty requirement is driving up the cost of APT devices on the market. In the future, we should expect that costs should come down.

Advanced packaging technologies have a bright future. The insatiable appetite that the everyday consumer is looking for and expecting from their devices is increasing, driving this new technology. A technology that is now mainstream. As we finally put to rest Moore's law and change how we look at the semiconductor industry with a new major paradigm shift. Instead of simply looking at increasing node density, we can now customize based on entire sections of circuits for a specific industry and application. It's an exciting time.

This column originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of Design007 Magazine.



Elementary, Mr. Watson: Advanced Packaging Not a Passing Fad


As it is said, necessity is the mother of invention. That is precisely the situation when we are discussing the PCB design industry. We are living in what can only be described as the golden age of Electronics. The advancements and innovations are growing by leaps and bounds. Never in history has the field of electronics grown at such a fantastic rate. The advance integration packages field is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Designing For a Higher Purpose


John Watson asks the question to PCB designers: Why do you do what you do? It's a question someone asked him recently and the answer was clear. In this column, John shares a personal journey of a friend whose life was changed in an instant because of the efforts of so many, including a PCB designer. This story should give us all pause to consider the magnitude of what we do. The "puzzle pieces" of a PCB design become a working model for consumer products that affect even our most basic senses. Read on to learn more about the "why" behind his passion for PCB design.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Art of the PCB


After finishing the statue of David, Michelangelo—Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance—was asked how he had created such a beautiful work of art. He said, “The sculpture was already complete within the marble block before I started my work. I merely had to chisel away the superfluous material.” After decades of being in the industry and seeing countless designs, it’s still amazing to me to see the exceptional beauty of a well-done PCB design. For designers, each PCB begins as a blank canvas; not knowing what the final product will look like, we walk a fine line between engineering and artistry, often producing fascinating results.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Is Your Bathroom in the Kitchen?


Several years ago, a report came out of St. Louis of a strange apartment on the market. It was in the community of Central West End. With a small floor plan of only 200 square feet, the entire bathroom was placed right in the middle of the kitchen. Well, that's interesting. It gives new meaning to the studio apartment. Well, with closer examination, there are several convenient features available, so here's my point: In this story lies some fantastic lessons for us as PCB designers. In real estate, it's pretty uncommon to find the bathroom in the kitchen; but metaphorically speaking, it's done all the time in a PCB design (ouch).

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?


I recently had the opportunity to work on a rather critical PCB design project during what should have been the final design review. Unfortunately, after presenting my well-organized PowerPoint presentation, I asked the most challenging question to the group of assembled engineers and managers, “So, what do you think?” As we went around the room, nearly every comment started with something like, "You know what we could do..." Ideas flew around the room, fueling a full-blown brainstorm. Unfortunately, what followed could best be described as organized chaos. The result was that several of the suggestions took the product back to re-design, and what was supposed to be the final steps didn't happen.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Anatomy of Your Component—Footprint, Part 2


Have you ever gone to a buffet hungry and looking forward to digging in? You grab the plate and start down the food line, picking things as you go. Halfway through, your plate is stacked up with food, looking very similar to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then you get to the good stuff at the end of the buffet, but there’s no room on your plate. At this point, you probably feel much like that with the first part of looking at our footprint, but rest assured, although your plate is already full, the good stuff is still waiting for us. I have saved the best for our second offering.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Anatomy of Your Component—Footprint


I hate to disappoint you if you expect to get everything about footprints from this modest column, but a short search online results in a long list of technical standards and books on this subject. So, I will only hit the surface of the discussion. I have often spoken about the parent-child relationship principle in PCB design. In this series, we have learned that we can see how that "relationship" is supported directly by the information in the component itself. As a short review, the parent-child relationship is where you use an input of data, material, or parts (parents) as the foundation or resource for another item or document (child).

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Anatomy of Your PCB Component, Part 2


In the start of my series of the anatomy of a component, I discussed that the component has two major divisions. The first is information that consists of name, description, parametric information, sourcing (part choices), and the datasheet (Figure 1). Next, the component comprises symbol, PCB footprint, 3D model, and simulation models. I gave the example of the dissection of the frog, with an analogy that every part has a purpose. In the same way, each part of our component has a distinct purpose in our PCB design, including our models.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Anatomy of Your PCB Component, Part 1


One of the classes I dreaded the most in school each year was biology. This was because I knew it was only a matter of time before I would face the rite of passage for most high school students: dissecting a frog. It wasn’t something I ever looked forward to. We had to go through the same educational exercise and maybe with the same apprehension for most of us. But my point in bringing up the painful experiences of our high school years is, although it was difficult, I did learn a powerful lesson: Every part has a purpose.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Five Pillars of Your Library, Part 5—Traceability


We have reached the end of this series regarding the five pillars of the component library. We now have a robust library that provides the required resources for the ever-changing industry. Above that is having a flexible library to grow with the company. The final pillar is traceability. Why is traceability so essential and considered a pillar of our library? Read on for details.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Five Pillars of your Library, Part 4—Review


I trust that you have been enjoying this series on the five pillars of your library. Now that we have a single library managed using our revisioning, and we have lifecycle schemes organized so that we can easily find something in the component category, family, and subfamilies, we are now ready to look at one of our library's most vital principles and pillars: reviewable.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Five Pillars of Your Library, Part 3—Architecture


Before I continue with the series of the five pillars of your library, I want to do a little review. Although every library is different, the five pillars are consistent with any sound library. You place these pillars to support a specific building section in building construction. To pull one out requires the remaining ones to hold the total weight above. So, each of these supports is needed for your library to succeed. You cannot choose which of them you intend to follow; to pull just one out results in the toppling of the others.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: PCB Data Management and Security


As a grandfather of six grandchildren, one of my great joys is spending time with them. There is nothing better than spending an afternoon at the park and especially playing on the teeter-totter. It's all fun and games until grandpa gets on one side, and they try to lift me. Then the harsh reality and a teachable moment in leverage, balance, and just how heavy grandpa really is hits pretty hard.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: We’ve Never Done It That Way Before


The September edition of Design007 Magazine discussed the theme of collaborating and working with a team. In that issue, I wrote a feature article called “PCB Design Is a Team Sport.” After that edition was published, I had several follow-up questions and conversations with individuals; they agreed on the importance of teamwork but felt that it's easier said than done. It's challenging because of the inherent problem of team members accepting or handling change very well. Change it's a word that sends shivers down the spine of some. You know those sort of individuals. They're easy to identify. The ones that constantly remind everyone, "We never did it that way before." As if how we did things in the past was so much better.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: First, Component Shortages, and Now Hot Dogs?


When I considered the title for this month’s article, I seriously considered calling it "From the Frying Pan Into the Fire" because I’m sure you’ve noticed recently that the component shortage problem has only worsened—we’re now seeing other supply lines breaking down.

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Elementary Mr. Watson: PCB Design—It's a Team Sport


One of the hard lessons of this past year was about the value of the team and collaboration. I have repeatedly heard how many of us have a newfound respect and appreciation for the teams we work with inside our companies. Out of necessity, we had to find new ways to collaborate.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Danger of Rogue Libraries


For PCB designers, the most common part of the library is the collection of components used in the PCB design process. But, I have seen some libraries have other information, including a resource area, a group of documents, standards, and articles. So basically it can have anything you want.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Epic Fails with Design Rules


Various sciences, including physics, mathematics, chemistry, are significantly involved throughout the PCB design process, rules that can sometimes be bent but not broken. However, the rules that designers break and ignore altogether and very often are the design rules.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Managing Risk in PCB Design


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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Time to Market, from Ludicrous Speed to Plaid


Mel Brooks may have something to teach us about going "ludicrous speed" in getting our designs to the finish line. John Watson explains.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Trust but Verify


Over many years, I have seen some elaborate PCB library systems. However, the best ones were those not based on the size but rather the quality of the information. That old axiom is definitely “not quantity but rather quality.”

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Paying the Price To Be a PCB Designer


Today, the electronics industry is flourishing with innovations and technologies. The result is that the “good” designers are left in the dust. Truthfully, our industry doesn't need more good designers; rather, we need great designers—those who can face any challenge and instead of cowering in the corner, looks at the task at hand and says, "Bring it on."

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Demystifying Bypass Capacitors


As PCB designers, we work under the simple rule of cause and effect, and a PCB design can quickly become a petri dish for the butterfly effect to flourish. One of those areas that can quickly snowball into major problems is your PCB power distribution structure. When it goes wrong, it usually goes very wrong and has significant issues throughout your design.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Density Feasibility Putting 10 Lbs in a 5-Lb Bag


Whether on a customer, a system, or a PCB level, it’s essential to understand the final objective and how you intend to get there and meet the customer need at the forefront of any project. In this column, John Watson addresses density feasibility and more.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Location, Location, Location


When it comes to PCB design, one of the most overlooked principles is component placement. Similar to a home, the component location has a considerable impact on the quality and is the real value of a PCB design. John Watson examines five rules to follow when it comes to component placement.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Overcoming PCB Designs Pitfalls


When starting every PCB design, the hope is that we can navigate through any pitfalls that arrive. Unfortunately, many times, issues happen that you do not handle correctly; they fall through the cracks and end up in your PCB design. John Watson explains how that is when the real problems begin.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: How to Ruin Your PCB Design in 4 Easy Steps


John Watson has seen firsthand how quickly PCB designs can “go off the rails” by not following a few simple principles. In this column, he looks at four practices that can easily ruin your PCB design.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: PCB Components Naming Conventions


How you accurately analyze and identify certain information has a direct connection to the overall success of your PCB designs. In this column, John Watson focuses on the conventional naming scheme for the schematic symbol and footprint to prevent headaches and ulcers later.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Collaboration in the PCB Design Process


The past few months have been trying for everyone, with many of us working from home. However, there are still the underlining principles of collaboration to step into a role to finish the necessary tasks to keep a project moving forward. John Watson, CID, explains.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Reinventing Yourself


When COVID-19 first hit, many businesses were forced to close, and we immediately saw its impact on the service industry. Whatever challenge you’re facing, John Watson emphasizes that it’s time to hit the switch on reinventing.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Positive Side of COVID-19


With the recent COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, most of us have been forced to reshuffle how we work, live, and play. Something like this has never happened before in our lifetimes, and it is scary and challenging, but difficult times develop resilient people. John Watson shares some of the positive things he has already noticed come out of this situation.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Are We There Yet?


Anyone who has taken a road trip with children knows the question, “Are we there yet?” very well. This question also applies to PCB design. If you are not careful, your PCB project could easily go off track and you could lose sight of what you are doing (objective), why (motivation), how (process), and when (schedule). John Watson emphasizes the importance of these fundamental questions.

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