Understanding the Relationship Between Semiconductors, SMT, and Microelectronics
Today’s mainstream electronics manufacturing consists mainly of semiconductor packages and surface mount technology processes. Together, the two make up the vast majority of readily acknowledged devices from cell phones to PCs, tablets, and laptops. Even smart high-end toasters leverage these two technologies. The resulting products also end up in automobiles, stereos, TVs, and remote controls. A lesser known technology, however, is working its way into both of these markets – microelectronics.
Below are some abbreviated definitions, meant to gain some common understanding before diving in further:
- SMT (Surface Mount Technology) – examples include a motherboard in a PC, or an FR4 board with ICs, resistors, and capacitors reflow soldered making a completed electronic product. The number of products built with this technology is staggeringly large.
- Semiconductor – consider lead frame packages with a single IC that is die-attached, wire-bonded, and over-molded. These packages are made by the millions, can be surface mounted, and soldered into through hole substrates/FR4 boards. The number of products built with the technology is staggeringly large.
- Hybrid Microelectronics – multiple ICs/packages incorporated into a space-saving package. This can include SMT and semiconductor technologies and can be very complex—mixed technologies that allow for powerful and/or small final products. The number of products built with this technology is small compared to SMT and semiconductor packaging, but it is a growing market.
While SMT technology generally incorporates semiconductor products, semiconductor products do not typically include SMT components.
Microelectronics can incorporate both, and the result is smaller and usually faster final products. Through-hole technologies are becoming rare.
Microelectronics is a growing packaging method and is working its way into both of these mainstream markets – but in a different way. Both semiconductor and microelectronic packages can utilize the same (or similar) manufacturing techniques. Both can mount bare die with conductive or non-conductive epoxies, or eutectic solders. Both generally employ traditional wire ball bonding for the first level interconnects. These markets are distinct, but they do mix.
Just as SMT technologies incorporate semiconductor packages but rarely the other way around, microelectronics can incorporate both semiconductor and SMT technologies to create complex packages and products.
For example, an automated component placement system like Palomar Technologies' 3800 Die Bonder with VisionPilot™ can pick and place bare die, semiconductor packages like BGAs, and SMT resistors and capacitors. On the other hand, a semiconductor component placement system or a SMT chip shooter generally cannot place bare ICs properly in complex microelectronic packages. Nor can semiconductor wire bonders generally process microelectronic packages due to size, depth, and reliability concerns. Most of today’s first-level interconnects use wire bonders with large area, deep access capabilities. They may not be as fast as the very small working envelope semiconductor wire bonders – but they can build a complex, high-reliability wire bond. Palomar’s solution is the new 8000i gold ball bonder with Intelligent Interactive Graphical Interface™ (i2Gi™).
There is an interesting mix of relationships between these markets, with microelectronic packaging technologies fully capable of addressing all three markets – something the other two markets cannot suggest.
3800 Die Bonder
VisionPilot Data Sheet
8000i Wire Bonder
i2Gi Data Sheet
Bradley K. Benton
Western Regional Sales Manager
Palomar Technologies, Inc.