Multilayers, microvias and the millennium

Circuit World

ISSN: 0305-6120

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Coultard, F. (2000), "Multilayers, microvias and the millennium", Circuit World, Vol. 26 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Multilayers, microvias and the millennium

Keywords Multilayers, Microvias, Millennium, Electronics industry, Printed circuit boards

It is time our industry, UK PLC, examined carefully its collective ability to be competitive on an international basis in the light of the new millennium, the new technologies emerging and the reorganizing of other industries and federations. The key is a new attitude towards the whole industry working together in a way, as yet, unseen. This short article attempts to compare the British approach against others.

The word "millennium" has three broad definitions in the Concise Oxford Dictionary: first, a period of 1,000 years; second, from the theological point of view, the prophesied 1,000 year reign of Christ in person (Revelations 20:1-5); and third, a period of good government, great happiness and prosperity. The word has been bandied about, misused, abused, confused and often thoroughly misunderstood. Great predictions and plans have been pushed forward for the next millennium, although how any human can prepare something resembling a business plan or sales forecast for a 1,000 years beats me. Such crystal ball gazing is difficult enough for 12 months, 12 weeks or even 12 days in our industry! The religious issue we can leave to one side for the sake of this discussion. Lastly, no government can expect to govern for 1,000 years so we must return to our lot, which is to consider the first small slice, say five plus years, of the next 1,000 years.

The "lean machine" which is UK PLC has much to offer the world and will be conscious of the constant need for flexibility and change if it is to keep ahead of the pack. Certainly the developing lack of irresponsible trade unions, the flexible work practices, the innate ingenuity and inventiveness in our country, gems of contribution from other cultures, the attractiveness for outside investors and the "island spirit" all bode well for our future. The preparedness for remodeling is pertinent to all walks of life and especially our industry, but particularly so for the PCIF, which even now is examining itself constantly to see how best to switch around in order to serve its members more poignantly. Our PCB manufacturing and assembly industry has clearly demonstrated a flexibility and adaptability worthy of its name and is reminiscent of Drake's nimble and inventive navy compared with the lumbering Spanish Armada, which it roundly defeated.

Recently, this flexibility and "fleet of foot" has been hampered to a significant degree by the increased burden of State bureaucracy and taxes, stealth and otherwise. However, even with those problems, ways have been found at great cost to cope and keep ahead.

One could argue that today's national boundaries are irrelevant in our industry. Most large corporations operate across international frontiers working on a truly global scale with global plans. Production units are switched to low cost areas at will. Designs start the day in one country and one time zone merely to be continued in a different time zone later for optimization and to face out the all-important "time-to-market" master, calling on shared libraries. Engineers move companies, countries and cultures to keep pace with the technology; they would benefit from a universal association to which they could belong. That may happen but the human also likes a local connection. That's where the National Trade Federations come in because there are always local issues, the need for regional forums, local legislation to contend with and the need to provide a focal point nearby.

The newly formed WECC (World Electronic Circuits Council) pulls all these together on a worldwide scale. If we are to continue competing effectively in an international arena we must glean from others' experience and look for lessons elsewhere.

The 1998 Roadmap (ref. P21, "Topics facing the next generation"), produced by the JPCA focused on the need to "create an advanced system of integration and packaging technology" for the future and that it was imperative to start the process promptly. It concluded that most of the problems were to do with the establishment of an infrastructure for the required technologies and the standardisation of test methods or with preparing shared databases. It reckoned that many of these issues were difficult to overcome in the individual system company or the individual printed circuit board supply firm. Additionally, if these points were to be overcome without excessive struggling, the cooperation of the system design side, the packaging and component supply side and the printed circuit board supply element is imperative in establishing the most appropriate standards. Furthermore, in design and manufacturing on a global scale the many individual standards could provide major obstacles to progress. Thus a support infrastructure must be put in place on a global scale providing a venue for international exchange between industrial organisations, associations and committees in foreign countries.

JPCA Roadmap (ref p. 348,"Establishment of next generation ultra small high speed electronics packaging technology")

The next generation products and services will give rise to new markets and new industries. Words like fusion and combination are key to the success of the next trend. The future will depend on the technological fusion of the electronic product, the semiconductor, printed circuit and packaging industries. The industry partners must not hanker after holding on to the circuit board manufacturing processes and the assembly processes themselves but should promote close cooperation between all involved parties.

Previously, the method of bringing products to market has followed the traditional sequence of product design to semiconductor design to semiconductor manufacture to the packaging process. Now, however, the flow will have to change. In future, the likely sequence will be product design plus semiconductor design, plus packaging design, plus circuit board design, followed by semiconductor manufacturing, plus circuit board manufacture, followed by packaging. Thus our industry will need to undergo change to include systems that are able to check for the feasibility of manufacturing at the time of design.

In the past, semiconductor processing focused on sub-micron design rules and the printed circuit design/packaging on the somewhat easier 200 micron design rules. Consequently, engineers and manufacturers concentrated on the semiconductor process. Now, however, PCB technology is concentrating on the gap between the two, i.e. the 10 to 100 micron scale.

The JPCA has acknowledged that its role in this new scenario is to assist this process. Manufacturers or systems designers, working or operating separately and in isolation, cannot resolve the problems. It will be necessary for the system designers, the packaged component suppliers and the printed circuit board suppliers to join forces and agree on the salient specifications for the technology. The JPCA concludes that they should not carry out this process alone but should make ties with Asia, Europe and the Americas.

This selection of the philosophy behind the JPCA's roadmap publication illustrates a profound intelligence in recognising the burning need for the different factions in the industry to work together. This sense of teamwork is prevalent in Japan and catalyses their continuing success. We can learn from this realisation.

Both the JPCA and the IPC include very considerable numbers of OEMs in their membership as well as the other groups. This integration of the industry, so transparently evident in Japan and the USA, will propel the new attitude required and referred to above. It is in sharp contrast to the situation prevailing in the UK where the OEM membership resides in one renowned federation and the rest of the groups align to the PCIF and other federations such as AFDEC, CEMA and the SMART Group, all very worthy in their own way but not integrated. This configuration does not bode well for a competitive stance on a global basis. The way forward for the good of the industry is to seek how such integration can be created. Individual federation agendas should be put to one side in the interests of UK PLC.

What was the slogan of Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers?

Frank Coultard

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