With the global chip shortage affecting the ability for transport technology suppliers and motor manufacturers to fulfil orders, a UK-based semiconductor maker has announced the start of mass production of microchips in low-cost plastic encapsulated QFN packages in its UK facility.
The majority of semiconductor packaging taking place in large out-sourced assembly and test production lines in Asia, so Alter Technology UK’s announcement signifies a unique capability in the UK, with Alter being just one of a handful of facilities in Europe with such capability.
Traditionally UK semiconductor packaging has been focussed on low volumes using expensive ceramic and metal packages with batch sizes limited to hundreds of devices packaged in a serial fashion; ideal for harsh environments and prototyping, but not optimal for a majority of semiconductor packaging applications. The shift to this lower-cost and high-volume compatible plastic package technology represents a 90% reduction in cost and enables several thousands to tens of thousands of devices per batch.
The announcement comes at a time when a global chip shortage has elevated semiconductor production to the top of government and industry agendas, with the US and Europe both passing legislation focussed on re-shoring capability and promoting sovereign supply chains. The UK government is anticipated to publish its own semiconductor strategy this autumn after extensive consultation with industry.
Stephen Duffy, CEO of Alter Technology TÜV NORD UK commented, “Semiconductor Packaging in the UK has traditionally been focusing on lower-volume niche applications. At Alter UK we have set up the UK’s only plastic package QFN semiconductor line which has a capacity of several million single die QFN equivalents per year, with plans to go beyond 10M next year.
“While still a long way off the capacity of the big OSATs it represents a significant volume and replicates the same higher volume plastic capability as offered by the Asian OSATs. We believe that such volume capability will be vital to ensuring a vibrant UK and European semiconductor industry in future years.”
Matt Booker, Sales Director added, “The UK has a thriving community of chip technologies including traditional silicon and emerging technologies such as compound semiconductors (e.g. gallium nitride and silicon carbide) and graphene. The capacity of high-volume lines is dominated by consumer, mobile and automotive customers, making them difficult to access for low and medium volume requirements such as industrial, medical, aerospace and defence.
“High-volume OSATs generally don’t want their production lines polluted with small batches or non-standard requirements and usually reject these customers which forges an ideal gap in the market for us. We can also offer flexibility with enhanced quality requirements such as traceability and inspections not usually serviced by large suppliers.”
(Picture – Alter Technology)
Alter have received grant funding from Innovate UK to support development of a custom plastic package for a Silicon Carbide power device under the Driving the Electric Revolution Challenge, in partnership with Turbo Power Systems, Clas-SiC Wafer Fab and Compound Semiconductor Catapult.
The European Space Agency (ESA) have also awarded a contract to Alter UK to evaluate these plastic packages for use in space grade environments, with Alter in Spain running the reliability test campaign.