If the Shoe Fits...

As we have noted in a previous blog, the die-bonding ecosystem has grown significantly in market size since the turn of the millennium, and in terms of advanced technologies served, made extraordinary strides, particularly over the past decade. Many of these changes have centered around manufacturing alignment, with machines increasingly dedicated to specific purposes and ever greater volumes of exacting and dependable output.

Of Shoes and Toast blog

As with any principle of scale and specialization, the result has been improved dependability, better power utilization, more advanced technological capabilities, all at significantly lower cost. This is little better exemplified than in the recent histories surrounding automobiles and smart phones. The price of the average family car has remained essentially static since 2000, yet the features of a 2023 model make those of 2000 look positively prehistoric. The same is true of the smart phones. The year 3G was launched, the author went through three phones in six months as providers struggled to provide video calls on sets that actually worked. Contemporary models are expected to screen 4k movies with ultra-digital sound and more, all without the remotest hint of a hitch or user inconvenience. Emergency satellite capability is almost a must. Yet, as with automobiles, real prices have remained flat or even fallen in real terms for the consumer.

What is surprising in all this, and far from immediately evident, is the remarkably growing convergence between the technologies needed to develop and build an automobile on the one hand, and those needed to create successive evolutions of smart phones. Once we reflect on what each does—and how much this is way above their original function—this becomes immediately apparent. Both are now expected to keep us safe, sense our surroundings, know our location, automatically communicate in emergency situations, entertain us, tell us when something is going wrong, and do more and more for us with each technical iteration.

The most poignant evidence in this respect is the common and fundamental dependence on the semiconductor chip. Shortages here made ample supply of both car and phone tight for some time following the various global COVID-19 lockdowns.

As always with such simplified overviews, “the devil” as the adage goes, “is in the detail”. This refers to the fact that while a general narrative is true and accurate as far as it goes, commercially and technically useful understanding only follows with an understanding of all the critical nuances. Put another way, there is no room for the lazy or lackadaisical when it comes to navigating these markets, and even more so the die-bonder market either as a provider, consumer, investor or analyst. For those on the inside of that ecosystem, the same holds even more true.

Perhaps the most critical factor in considering bonder systems alternative is, as with a pair of shoes, fit. Whatever the looks of thing, however visually smooth, or the fads of fashion, if the shoes do not fit perfectly, they are not fit for purpose, and much worse. As we all know from experience, a tiny piece of malformed leather or stitching brings ruinous misery. Fit is everything, especially for those whose feet are still growing.

This podiatry narrative holds a profound set of analogies with die-bonding. The first set of questions regarding fit revolve around the commercial stage of the intended product, or where on the pathway of innovation and technical maturity the proposed set of uses lie. Whether commercialization is still in its beginning or early stages, or the innovation is still capable of many iterations, even reaching into as yet unknown applications, the type of bonding system required must be up the task of not only embracing but excelling in the required panoply of agilities and flexibilities.  

Conversely, where the product is mature and any anticipated changes are very limited, and where demand and lifespan are in the higher number of years, not less, then the systems are required are geared to fitting the implicit needs these scenarios require. These systems tend to be easier to set-up and operate, and capable of impressive levels of device dependability and volume output.

Hopefully, not to confuse the reader, but to use another metaphor, the latter may be likened to the operation of a toaster, where the former is more akin an oven. Both can toast bread, but only the latter can toast it in sufficient number and at the right commercial cost. Anyone who buys an oven for this purpose, clearly has more money than sense. Where, however, toast is required occasionally complement the wider range of culinary options that can be created in an oven, the latter makes obvious sense. Of course, where budget allows the purchases of both, this may be the more optimal solution.

In the world of the 2020s, both “kitchen” space and budgets are increasingly under pressure, however, which means that a great deal of thought must be put into the initial set up. If your business is going to sell toast and lots of it, then the choices are clear. The less toast and greater the number of other dishes served, requires much more consideration.

Any development or systems engineer reading these words will be acutely aware of both how important such considerations are, and how potentially complex they can be to navigate in the semi-conductor world. That having been said, the challenge is not engineering per se, but that of the slightly time consuming, and occasionally exhausting need, to thoroughly understand one’s own product, its potential for future development, and the demands of the market in five- or ten-year’s time. Most critical of all is objectivity.

Human nature tends to have an in-built toaster-oven bias. Some people love the presence of an expensive oven that can do a great deal, as to those viewing from outside, such extravagance suggests expansive and impressive culinary capabilities. Others prefer the no-nonsense, efficient and frugal toaster, that can satisfy hunger with a quick pop of a tart.

For most customers in the die-bonding ecosystem, the rationale for the right choice is already clear. For those where such perspicuity is lacking, the need for investigation and further consideration is axiomatic. With literally decades of experience in guiding developers, innovators and manufacturers through such choices, Palomar is well positioned to help with systems focused on solutions. We know the questions to ask, the solutions available, and above all, we tend to have a pretty good idea early on whether the need is for a toaster or an oven. Better still, our global innovations centers allow local access to cost effective access to the oven route, even on a trial basis, to see whether our “ovens” are right technical and commercial fit for the devices you have worked so hard, and invested yourself so highly. If you are able to do this simultaneously with a “toaster” specialist, all the better. For Palomar’s part we invite you to contact us with a view to talking with a non-sales expert to get an unbiased assessment of best fit for your needs, especially in the context of a range of risk-reduction options.


Dr. Anthony O'Sullivan
Strategic Market Research Specialist
Palomar Technologies