Plastic packaging plant starts volume production in the UK

Plastic packaging plant starts volume production in the UK

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Alter Technology has started volume production of plastic encapsulated QFN chip packages in the UK.

The majority of semiconductor packaging taking place in large out-sourced assembly and test (OSAT) production lines in Asia, so the Alter UK plant in Livingston, Scotland, provides a key capability in the UK

Alter is headquartered in Spain and is one of a handful of facilities in Europe with such capability.

Traditionally UK semiconductor packaging has been focussed on low volumes using ceramic and metal packages with batch sizes limited to 100s of devices packaged in a serial fashion. This is suitable 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 line at Livingston has a capacity of several million of units a year and Alter is looking at increasing this to tens of millions.

This is a key capability for European chip production to avoid supply chain issues in Asia. The European Space Agency is also evaluating the process for chips used in space systems.  

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“The Livingston site to be a Centre of Excellence within the Group for space and satellite-grade semiconductor and photonic manufacturing. One notable success was the recent supply of key electronic components, designed and manufactured by Alter UK in Livingston, to the NASA MARS Perseverance Rover which landed on MARS last year,” said Stephen Duffy, CEO of Alter Technology TÜV NORD UK.

“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,” he said.

 “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.”

“The UK has a thriving community of chip technologies including traditional silicon and emerging technologies such as gallium nitride and silicon carbide compound semiconductors 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,” said Matt Booker, sales director at Alter UK.

“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,” he said.

Alter received grant funding from Innovate UK to support development of a custom plastic package for a Silicon Carbide power device working with Turbo Power Systems, the Clas-SiC wafer fab, north of Edinburgh, and the Compound Semiconductor Catapult in Newport, Wales.

Earlier this year the group announced a £6m photonics and space centre at the nearby University of Strathclyde.  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.

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