Heterogeneous Integration Sets Up an Inflection in Panel Processing Equipment (Drivers)
Advanced packaging on a microchip
Mar 17, 2023
  • System in Package (SiP) needs push substrate designs to smaller features (similar to FO-PLP)   

  • Convergence in requirements allows shared R&D costs for panel level processing systems 

The accelerating costs of transistor scaling are pushing the industry to find innovative ways to improve chip and system performance from generation to generation. That’s why heterogenous integration (HI) has become the latest inflection in packaging technology.  

  • Heterogeneous integration (HI) brings together (integrates) separately manufactured components into a higher-level assembly that, in aggregate, provides enhanced functionality and improved operating characteristics and lower cost. 

  • This higher-level assembly is called System in Package (SiP).   

  • HI is initially being implemented on high performance computing devices often used in machine learning and artificial intelligence applications.  

SiP Designs 

Increasing performance is about bringing logic and memory closer together with higher bandwidth connections than can be achieved with individual chips mounted to a mother board. To increase speed and bandwidth the industry is embracing System in Package (SiP) designs.  

  • SiP is a is a way of bundling two or more integrated circuits (ICs) inside a single package. Contrast this with system on a chip (SoC), where the functions on those chips are integrated onto the same die.

  • SiP designs continue to evolve to include more functionality as close together as possible.  

  • Some of the most advanced devices today have dozens of chips in a single package with transistor counts exceeding one trillion(!).  

The chart shows options for System in Package designs. The chart says, Emergence of new SiP-like packaging technologies will be required to address the need for heterogeneous integration for functional performance and faster time-to-market.

The chart shows options for System in Package designs. The chart says, Emergence of new SiP-like packaging technologies will be required to address the need for heterogeneous integration for functional performance and faster time-to-market.

To bring logic and memory closer together, the industry is moving SiP designs to an integrated circuit (IC) substrate, which provides smaller features, tighter pitches, and higher I/O (input/output) counts than can be achieved on a standard PCB (printed circuit board).  

These factors push the design rules on a substrate to be more like that of Wafer Level Fanout (FO-WLP) and Panel Level Fan Out (FO-PLP). 

  • Fan Out is an emerging technique where chips are attached to larger format substrates that could be round, square, or rectangular. The use of large format enables more chips per area, resulting in lower per unit costs.  

  • FO-PLP provides cost benefits over FOWLP, which creates the package in a round 300/330 mm format. 

But increasing costs for R&D of FO-PLP technology at low volumes is an immense obstacle. 

R&D Challenges 

A chart showing how costs increase as technology nodes decrease in size

The primary driver in the FO-PLP market is cost (not performance). The challenge for this market is to be able to meet wafer level specifications and yields on a larger format, going from 300mm round wafers to 600X600mm square panels.  

The market for these panels is small. Consequently, there is not enough volume to allow a high enough level of R&D investment across the entire supply chain to solve key issues associated with processing large panels.  

  • Due to under-investment the yields for FO-PLP have not reached the levels needed to obtain the economic benefits of going to a larger substrate size.  

The result? Most fanout business stays on wafers.   

Technical Convergence 

Similar panels (510X515mm) are used in the substrate market, where we expect to see a significant increase in volume over the next four years, especially in the most technologically challenging segments. 

Since technical convergence for substrate and FO-PLP requirements (e.g., feature size, uniformity) is imminent, it’s likely we could use the same or similar platforms to address both markets. The convergence enables a stronger equipment supplier base—a cause for hope.  

By standardizing panels to a few sizes and adopting existing interface and equipment standards, we can increase volumes for a common system platform. Standardization will help decrease R&D costs for panel level processing systems.  

  • Increased volumes will facilitate spreading the costs across additional equipment. This could create the scale needed to enable a robust market for panel processing equipment.  

As panel yields approach those seen in wafer level packaging, we would expect to see movement of additional applications from wafers to panels to take advantage of the expected cost benefit. 

  • Adjacent markets like micro-LEDs or “antenna in package” solutions are also expected to drive panel volumes higher. These additional volumes can improve the opportunities to reduce costs to help increase competitiveness of panel level solutions.  

Semsysco’s CUPID wet processing tool

Semsysco offers wet processing tools (like CUPID. above). It is capable of processing up to 600x600mm size substrate.  

Domino Effect  

As yields improve, we believe a domino effect will take place with reduced costs driving more volume and more R&D investment. These investments will help drive more effective automation, additional machine learning and intelligence, higher reliability, and lower defects.  

  • All of this should result in lower costs, which should continue to drive more volume to the panel business.  

Lam has always contributed to the extraordinary pace of innovation in the semiconductor industry. With the recent acquisition of Semsysco, we are investing in the panel level processing market and keeping Lam at the forefront of innovation.  


John Ostrowski is the managing director for Lam’s Sabre 3D product line. Drivers focuses on the macroeconomic and industry trends driving demand for semiconductors. Chip photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash.