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Venue for the 2018 EIPC Winter Conference was the splendid new Alstom Transport Information Solutions facility in Villeurbanne, in the Lyon metropolitan area of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in eastern France.
An extremely popular event—117 delegates represented a total of 20 countries, unprecedented in recent years, and only just fitted into Alstom’s conference suite. Indeed, some were even standing at the back!
A packed programme with an early start— 8:00 a.m. registration, and considerably earlier than that for most of the delegates who were staying in downtown hotels and enjoyed a 40-minute bus ride through a cold, dark, rainy morning rush-hour—the conference was opened by EIPC chairman Alun Morgan. Welcoming all present, he particularly thanked Alstom for their generous hospitality and the sponsors for their support.
Morgan gave an entertaining introductory presentation describing the evolution of robots, from his childhood science-fiction hero Robbie, through the first Unimate industrial robot working on automotive assembly in 1961, to the autonomous self-learning Knightscope K5 security robot patrolling a Silicon Valley parking lot. His replay of the 1979 “Hand-built by robots” TV advertising video for the Fiat Strada evoked some nostalgia, followed by considerable amusement when he played the “Driven by Italians!” spoof sequel (with due apology to his Italian delegates).
Discussing the implications of the 4th industrial revolution, and the profound effect it would have on our lives, he asked the rhetorical question “Will robots replace us?” and answered it with reference to the derivation of the word “robot” from an old Slavonic word meaning servitude, forced labour or drudgery—these were the jobs that would be lost, but a whole spectrum of new ones would be created as a direct result of automation and artificial intelligence.
Morgan was delighted to introduce Christian Roth, director of the System and Product Development Centre at Alstom Transport, who welcomed all guests to the Villeurbanne facility and gave a brief overview of the Alstom organisation. With headquarters in France, the company was already a world leader in integrated transport systems, with a presence in over 60 countries and employing over 30,000 people, before its recent announcement of a merger of rail operations with Siemens to create a European champion capable of better withstanding Chinese competition.
Alun Morgan moderated the keynote session on business, technology and new developments, with Walt Custer as his first speaker.
“Things are pretty good right now!” It was a welcome change for Custer not to offer the usual choice between “unpleasant truth” and “comforting lies” in his business outlook for the global electronics industry. His leading indicators showed that all major areas were in growth, and that most sectors of the world electronic supply chain were expanding, although currency exchange rates could distort apparent growth rates. Semiconductor sales were at record highs, driven particularly by the demand for memory, and shortages were resulting in price increases. Automotive and the Internet of Things were currently the main growth drivers; 5G would be the next substantial volume market and multiple disruptive technologies were emerging. However, geopolitical issues remained a significant area of concern.
Substantial manufacturing expansion was forecast for the European market, particularly in Germany. Developments in autonomous vehicles would lead to a massive restructuring of the industry and huge growth in automotive electronics which, although it would eliminate many existing jobs, would create many new ones in electronic systems. And the mil-aero sector was at an all-time high.
2017 figures for European PCB production showed a total of about 1880 million euro, of which Germany represented 43%, Austria and Switzerland 18%, Italy 10%, France 9% and UK 8%. There was a level of confidence in the German PCB industry that growth would continue into 2018, although shortfalls in component supply might cause problems later in the year. The French industry was benefiting from some long-term military programmes. The British PCB industry relied almost entirely on imported materials, and continued to suffer from the weakness of the pound and the uncertainties surrounding withdrawal from the European Union.
Thibault Buisson, business unit manager for advanced packaging and semiconductor manufacturing activities with Yole Développement, the specialist market research and strategy consulting company based locally in Villeurbanne, gave a presentation entitled “From Semiconductor Die to PCB: Changing Landscapes and Future Requirements.” He reviewed the revolution in microelectronics packaging, the dimension gap that remained between PCB design rules and wafer design rules, and discussed ways in which the gap might be bridged—there were opportunities for different business models.
A transition from subtractive to modified semi-additive processing (mSAP) was already evident in smartphone boards, and very optimistic growth was foreseen for substrate-like-PCB (SLP) technology, the next generation of HDI driven by large OEMs, with a forecast of more than $2.2Bn in 2022.
Embedded die packaging revenues were increasing, from $23M in 2015 to a forecast $50M in 2021, and the rationale for adopting embedded die packaging differed from application to application: for mobile devices it was mainly for miniaturisation, whereas for power and automotive applications an additional consideration was thermal management.
There were several business models around embedded die packaging, and substrate manufacturers were now offering packaging services by acting as outsourced semiconductor packaging and test (OSAT) suppliers. Several methods were available for manufacturing die-in-laminate packages. Many of the companies had developed their own techniques but others had decided to licence, and this might help some technologies become established as industry-standard.
The modified semi-additive (mSAP) process and embedded component packaging (ECP) technologies previously referred to by Thibault Buisson were explored in greater depth in the final presentation of the keynote session, which came from Dr. Martin Schrems, director of strategy and business development with AT&S in Austria, who discussed present and future solutions for the electronics industry in Europe. He commented that although the European market was relatively small, there was substantial growth in advanced packaging. AT&S had extensive expertise in the areas of embedded component packaging, IC substrates and mSAP substrate-like printed circuits in their manufacturing plants in Austria and China, as well as microvia HDI, any-layer HDI, and a full suite of rigid, flex, flex-rigid and IMS PCB products.
Dr. Schrems described a series of examples of interconnect solutions for smart mobility, smart home, smart industry, smart traffic, smart city and smart energy applications. And all these smart products need smart production, with an IT-driven integrated manufacturing and supply chain. The trend was towards modularisation, driven by considerations of time-to-market and system cost reduction using tested modules containing multiple components to simplify the development of new electronic products. Added benefits included reduced footprint and z-height, reduced impedance, noise and transmission losses and shorter electrical connections, together with improved thermal management and electrical shielding.