Alter Technology, the plastic packaging plant has started volume production of plastic encapsulated QFN chip packages in the UK. Most of the semiconductor packaging taking place in sizeable out-sourced assembly and test (OSAT) production lines in Asia, so the Alter UK plant in Livingston, Scotland, offers a significant capability in the UK. Alter is headquartered in Spain and is one of a small number of facilities in Europe with such capability.
Traditionally UK semiconductor packaging has been centred on low volumes using ceramic and metal packages with batch sizes restricted to 100s of devices packaged in a sequential pattern. This is appropriate for tough ecosystems and prototyping, but not ideal for a greater part of semiconductor packaging applications.
The change to this lower-cost and high-volume compatible plastic package technology signifies a 90% decrease in cost and facilitates 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 strategic capability for European chip production to prevent supply chain issues in Asia. The European Space Agency is also assessing the procedure for chips used in space systems.
Alter obtained grant funding from Innovate UK
Stephen Duffy, the Chief Executive Officer of Alter Technology TUV NORD UK stated that the Livingston site to be a Centre of Excellence within the Group for space and satellite-grade semiconductor and photonic manufacturing. One remarkable victory was the latest supply of vital electronic components, designed and manufactured by Alter UK in Livingston, to the Nasa Mars Perseverance Rover which landed on MARS the previous year.
Semiconductor Packaging in the UK has traditionally been concentrating on smaller quantity of niche applications. At Alter UK, the team has set up the UK’s only plastic package QFN semiconductor line which has a capacity of more than a few million single die QFN equivalents per annum, with arrangements to go beyond ten million the following year, Duffy said.
Whilst yet a prolonged way off the capacity of the massive OSATs it signifies a considerable volume and reproduces the same higher volume plastic capability as presented by the Asian OSATs. The team considers that such volume capability would be crucial to ensuring a vivid UK and European semiconductor industry soon, he added.
The UK has a flourishing community of chip technologies involving traditional silicon and evolving technologies such as gallium nitride and silicon carbide compound semiconductors and graphene. The capacity of high-volume lines is governed by consumer, mobile and automotive customers, creating them challenging to access for low and medium volume conditions such as medical, industrial, aerospace and defence, stated Matt Booker, sales director at Alter UK.
High-volume OSATs commonly repudiates their production lines polluted with tiny batches or non-standard prerequisites and eliminate these customers which establishes an ideal gap in the market. The plant can also offer suppleness with enhanced quality requirements such as traceability and inspections not usually serviced by larger suppliers, Booker said.
Alter obtained grant funding from Innovate UK to help 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.
At the beginning of this year the group announced a GBP 6 million photonics and space centre at the nearby University of Strathclyde. The European Space Agency (ESA) have also bestowed a contract to Alter UK to assess these plastic packages for usage in space grade settings, with Alter in Spain operating the reliability test campaign.