Whether it’s a connector, cable, display, indicator, or any type of sensor, it will undergo an evolutionary change in form and functions. They’re becoming smaller and smarter, lower in cost, and more flexible to use, but they all have one common denominator: They require a suitable package that can deliver all of these features to satisfy end-user and OEM demands.
For connectors and cables, continual improvements on established interfaces aside, there seems to be great potential for connector makers in the home/consumer market. Two ripe areas of growth are optical connectors, targeting the replacement of copper for telephony and media applications, and interfaces for home-entertainment systems, i.e., the High-Definition Media Interface (HDMI).
With increasing numbers of functions finding their way into every end product relying on touch sensors for input, sensor makers are doing much in terms of making single sensors multifunctional, more sensitive, and more accurate. Of course, these components will get smaller while the devices that control them become more versatile.
Many sensors are of the microelectromechanical system (MEMS) type, serving a slew of functions for consumer, automotive, industrial, and medical products. Nearly all MEMS experts are forecasting more highly integrated and intelligent MEMS that will open up many new applications.
MEMS such as pressure, microphone, timing, accelerometer, temperature, vision, inertial management unit (IMU), and gyroscope sensors will broadly expand the capabilities of present-day consumer electronics items. They’ll possess greater intelligence and allow us to interact with our everyday environment at levels limited only by one’s imagination.
Displays and indicators will also see rapid improvements. Liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) continue to lead the pack in large-, mid-, and small-size TV screens as well as in desktop computer monitors. In addition, they’re widely used as displays for mobile phones and many other consumer products. However, LCDs face a tough challenge from light-emittingdiode (LED) and organic LED (OLED) displays.
A lot of investment is being poured into OLED R&D due to inherent advantages of low power, relatively good efficiency, good color capability, longer lifetime, and thinner sizes as a display. Already, some cell-phone and small-screen TV products have appeared on the market, with more product applications sure to follow. It’s even being pushed for white-light lighting applications, which could result in sizable energy savings.
However, the greatest effort for large energy savings involves high-brightness white-light LEDs. LEDs presently light up countless municipal buildings, tunnels and bridges, and traffic-light signals, as well as commercial office building facades and parking lots. They’re also gaining larger applications as backlighting sources for LCD screens of all shapes and sizes.
An emerging technology is the electrophoretic display (EPD), which is also known as electronic ink, or e-ink (see the figure). With a steady stream of advances in materials, it’s finding its way into more e-books and e-paper products. Portable PC accessory products, RFID labeling, shelf-edge pricing tags, and smart cards all lie ahead in the not-too-distant future.
No matter what the component is, be it an active IC or a grouping of ICs and passive components, packaging represents the biggest challenge in terms of its usage in end products. The latest generation of packages is struggling to keep pace with the accelerating rate of IC and other component advances, whether it be small size, lower power, higher performance, greater flexibility, or any combination thereof.
Variations on common package-on-package and package-in-package appear to be satisfying many consumer electronics applications, but more is needed to meet the challenges posed by packaging ICs to be manufactured with 45-nm line widths and lower.
Chip-scale, wafer-scale, and flip-chip packaging technologies continue to improve. Ultimately, 3D integration of packages and chips stacked atop one another will have to be the answer. Along with this come the very challenging hurdles of interconnecting everything in a reliable and costeffective manner. One approach that shows lots of potential is the use of through-silicon vias (TSVs).
TSV technology is being aggressively pursued by a number of developers, and in fact, many promising results have already surfaced. Still, more needs to be done to standardize TSV technology and lower its cost per wafer. This may well take another few years to materialize.
Collaborative efforts by members of the 3D Equipment and Materials Consortium (EMC3D) in conjunction with materials suppliers have produced some positive results. For example, Consortium member Semitool demonstrated a 3D TSV process at a cost of about $189 per wafer.
One issue that looms large is wire bonding and its existing large infrastructure, plus equipment and expertise. Thus far, wire bonding has been able to keep pace with advances in higher-density silicon designs. But most experts concede that a move toward TSV interconnects is inevitable.