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The success of the CHIPS for America program depends on establishing a U.S. pilot facility for manufacturing integrated circuit (IC) substrates; and getting it done sooner, incrementally, is better than doing it perfectly, according to a new industry report.
The IPC Chief Technologist Council, composed of nearly 20 technologists at leading companies and organizations, says the emerging CHIPS for America program must be leveraged to stimulate IC substrate fabrication, assembly, and test capabilities. Over the longer term the program must help the U.S. “leapfrog into state-of-the-art capabilities,” the tech leaders say.
IC substrates are base layers used in the packaging of integrated circuit chips, also called semiconductors. Substrate layers connect chips with each other and with other items on a printed circuit board (PCB), in addition to protecting, reinforcing, and supporting the IC chip. Semiconductors cannot function without IC substrates and PCBs, and more advanced chips require more advanced substrates and PCBs.
However, according to a prior IPC study, the United States has almost no capability to produce the most advanced IC substrates, called Flip Chip Ball Grid Array (FCBGA) or Flip Chip Chip Scale Package (FCCSP). The U.S. also has very limited capability and capacity to produce lower-end wire bonded substrates.
The U.S. Government has established processes to determine how CHIPS Act funding will be allocated, but the resulting “feeding frenzy” is eating up funding while failing to address related needs, the technologists say. While IPC believes IC substrate projects are eligible for CHIPS Act funding, they are not being clearly prioritized.
Thus, the group calls on industry and government to collaborate on building an IC Substrate Manufacturing Center of Excellence – a fabrication pilot line – that could be incrementally improved over time. The facility should be located and designed to address other weaknesses in the semiconductor packaging ecosystem, including education, training, R&D, and related manufacturing centers such as outsourced semiconductor assembly and test (OSAT) facilities.
“Spending more time planning, talking, and debating will not get us to the desired competitiveness position more quickly,” the technologists write. “Only by starting the process, using our collective intellect to make on-the-fly adjustments, will we reconcile the technology shortfall in a timely fashion. We need to do something, and sooner is better than perfect.”
IPC and its allies have been calling on President Biden to address urgent industrial base vulnerabilities and deliver on the promise of the CHIPS Act through a “silicon-to-systems” innovation strategy, recognizing that greater production of chips alone will not meet the U.S. goals of greater security and resilience in its supply chain.
As IPC President and CEO John W. Mitchell has said: “Increasing domestic chips production without bolstering the manufacture of cutting-edge PCBs and IC substrates risks lengthening the semiconductor supply chain, because many of the chips made in California or Ohio will still have to be sent outside of the United States for packaging and assembly into finished products.
“Policy makers need to move beyond a silicon-only mindset and rebuilding the wider U.S. electronics manufacturing industry.”
IPC will continue to work with the Biden administration, the U.S. Congress, and industry partners to support long-term policy and funding to rebuild the entire ecosystem that sustains innovative, resilient, and secure electronics manufacturing in the United States.