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  • The Struggle to Shrink System Size: Innovative Technologies Driving the Next Generation of Mobile Devices



    Consumer electronics designers and manufacturers are in a constant balancing act to stay competitive with the addition of new innovative functionality while maintaining high yields at a competitive cost. Whether they’re smartphones or wearables, IoT devices or automotive electronics, there inevitably comes a point in the design process where designers just can’t cram any additional components or circuitry into the device without adding undesirable bulk or cost. Try as they might, they’ve reached the limit.

    Or have they?

    When it comes to dreaming up the next generation of electronic devices, collaboration between designers and manufacturers creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Recent innovations in manufacturing processes have proven successful in improving functionality while continuing to shrink the size of devices, and if manufacturers haven’t already implemented these processes, they’re almost surely evaluating them today. Advancements worth considering that can help designers get to higher-density electronics include:

    FAN-OUT WAFER LEVEL PACKAGING (FOWLP) – In conventional WLCSP (wafer level chip scale package) schemes, the I/O terminals are spread over the chip surface area, limiting the number of I/O connections. FOWLP, on the other hand, embeds individual die in an epoxy mold compound with space allocated between each die for additional I/O connection points, avoiding the use of more expensive silicon real estate to accommodate a higher I/O count. Leveraging FOWLP schemes, as seen in the A10 processor in Apple’s iPhone 7, enables semiconductor devices with thousands of I/O points to be seamlessly connected via finely spaced lines as thin as two to five microns, thus maximizing interconnect density while enabling high bandwidth data transfer.

    OLED – First-generation flexible Organic Light-emitting Diode (OLED) display technology is already making its way into the consumer marketplace, but its full potential is far from realized. Samsung Galaxy Edge smartphones and Apple Watches are among the first devices to incorporate this technology. But their curved displays are not designed to be bendable by consumers since they are encapsulated in rigid, protective glass – these devices merely hint at what flexible OLED displays will be capable of in the future.

    Next-generation flexible OLED displays will be foldable, rollable, and perhaps even stretchable, creating a brand-new class of electronic devices, and giving consumer electronics providers a massive new market opportunity .

    FLEXIBLE PRINTED CIRCUITS – These space-optimizing circuits have been around for decades, but their density continues to increase. Conventional three-layer flex circuits comprised of copper, polyimide and bonding adhesives are giving way to thinner, smoother two-layer flex circuits that forego the adhesive layer – the copper is instead plated directly on the polyimide. These two-layer circuits may be ultra-thin with very fine line spacing. With roll-to-roll processing, manufacturers can produce these advanced flex circuits using rolls of flexible material as long as 100m, processed continuously at high speed. Using this process, manufacturers are well positioned to achieve new benchmarks for flex circuit density at unprecedented cost efficiencies.

    Manufacturers are continually innovating to push the limits to gain higher yields and enable more complex and challenging designs. Designers of ultra-compact electronic devices should work with the manufacturing team to learn how they’re staying ahead of the curve with these advanced manufacturing techniques. The faster they can deploy these processes – if they haven’t already – the better equipped designers will be to create that impossibly compact device that sets their company apart from the competition.

    Hanoch Kopel is the Corporate Business Development Director at Orbotech Ltd., a leading provider of process innovation technologies, solutions and equipment serving the global electronics manufacturing industry. Hanoch has more than 10 years of experience in application and business development in the semiconductor and electronics industry and holds a BSc in material science and chemistry from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

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