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IC carrier board : the core substrate for semiconductor chip packaging

Printed circuit board (PCB) is a plate made of insulating and insulating materials with a certain strength to fix various components in the circuit and provide the connection circuit between various components. Printed circuit boards are the key electronic interconnection components of electronic products and are known as the “mother of electronic products”.

With the continuous progress of semiconductor manufacturing process, the electronics industry has higher and higher requirements for precision and performance, superimposed on the development direction of miniaturization and lightweight consumer electronics. Coupled with the rapid development of the current AI, which requires high computing power and puts forward more updated requirements for the number and level of equipment, it will drive the growth of PCB demand. It is estimated that China’s PCB output value will reach 54.6 billion US dollars in 2026.

 

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PCBs have been upgraded from the early single-layer PCB/double-layer PCB, multi-layer PCB to HDI Micro via PCs, HDI Any Layer PCBs, and the current popular carrier board, and the product line width and line spacing have gradually decreased.

Comparison of technical parameters of common PCB, HDI, IC carrier boards:

Comparison of technical parameters of common PCB, HDI, IC carrier boards
Comparison of technical parameters of common PCB, HDI, IC carrier boards

According to the data, the global IC carrier board market is expected to reach $16.2 billion in 2025, with an average compound growth rate of about 9.7% from 2020 to 2025, making it the highest growth market in various PCB segments.

IC carrier board industry overview

At present, the demand for high-end IC carrier boards and HDI in PCB is increasing.

IC carrier board is a package substrate, is a kind of circuit board for carrying chips, belongs to a branch of PCB, with high density, high precision, high performance, miniaturization and thinning characteristics. It can provide support, heat dissipation and protection for the chip, but also can provide electrical connection and physical support between the chip and the PCB motherboard.

The IC carrier board is a key component in the chip packaging process, and is the carrier that connects and transmits the signal between the bare die (DIE) and the printed circuit board (PCB).

Compared with ordinary PCB products, its product size is small, the precision is high, and the requirements for fine lines, hole spacing and signal interference are very high, so highly precise interlayer alignment technology, electroplating ability, and drilling technology are required.

Classification of mainstream IC carrier board
Classification of mainstream IC carrier board

According to different packaging materials, IC carrier boards can be divided into:
● Rigid package substrates
● Flexible package substrates
● Ceramic package substrates

The main materials of rigid substrates are BT resin, ABF resin and MIS, the former two of which are the most widely used.

BT resin

BT resin substrate materials have a high market share in semiconductor packaging, chip LEDs, and high-frequency applications due to their high heat resistance, moisture resistance, low dielectric constant and low loss factors.

BT resin was originally developed by Mitsubishi Gas in Japan, and was synthesized from bismaleimide and cyanate ester resin. BT substrate is not easy to heat rise and shrink, size stability, hard material, thick line, mostly used in mobile phone MEMS, communications, memory and LED and other fields, more than 70% of the world’s IC carrier board uses BT material.

ABF resin

ABF substrate material is a material dominated by Intel in the 90s, used to produce high-end carrier substrates such as flip chips, with a large number of pins and high transmission rates, mainly used in large high-end chips such as CPUs, GPUs, and chipsets.

ABF resin is a material developed by Intel, which is basically monopolized by Ajinomoto in Japan, and is made of epoxy/phenol hardener, cyanate/epoxy resin, and cyanate with thermosetting olefins.

MIS

MIS substrate is a new technology, including one or more layers of pre-encapsulated structure, each layer is connected by electroplated copper, with more detailed wiring and transmission capabilities, as well as smaller form factors, currently in the analog, power IC, and digital currency market fields are developing rapidly.

According to the difficulty of actual manufacturing of semiconductor IC substrates, market size and development trends, IC substrates are divided into entry-level, general and high-end categories.

Entry-level category: including BOC, PBGA, CSP, SiP, simple FCCSP (Tenting/MSAP process), etc.

General category: including general FCCSP (SAP process), ETS, EPS, general FCBGA (non-CPU), etc.

High-end category: including complex FCCSP (EAD/PLP, etc.), complex FCBGA (CPU class).

Classification and application of mainstream IC carrier board :图片

IC carrier board industry chain

IC carrier board industry chain
IC carrier board industry chain

From the upstream and downstream of the industrial chain, the upstream of IC carrier boards is mainly structural materials such as substrates and copper foils, and chemicals/consumables such as dry films and gold salts, the midstream is chip packaging, and the downstream is storage, MEMS and other specific chip applications.

In the upstream materials of IC packaging, IC carrier boards account for 30% of the cost, and the substrate accounts for more than 30% of the cost of IC carrier boards, so the substrate is the largest cost end of IC carrier boards.

Downstream application areas mainly include communications, computers, mobile terminals, industrial control medical, automotive electronics, aerospace, etc.

In mobile communication products such as smartphones and tablets, packaging substrates have been widely used. For example, memory chips for storage, microelectromechanical systems for sensing, RF modules for radio frequency identification, processor chips and other devices use packaging substrates, and high-speed communication package substrates have been widely used in data broadband and other fields.

IC carrier board market landscape

Because the IC carrier board is directly connected to the bare chip, there are triple barriers in its manufacturing (large), technical (difficult), and customer (slow).

From the perspective of the historical development of IC carrier boards, Japanese manufacturers were the first to lead the world, and then production capacity was partially transferred to Taiwan and South Korea along the semiconductor industry chain.

Through the analysis of the product layout of existing suppliers, it can be seen that the product series of Taiwanese enterprises is more comprehensive, Japanese enterprises mainly concentrate on general and high-end product series, Korean enterprises mainly concentrate on entry-level and general product series, and Chinese mainland enterprises are still concentrated in entry-level and general categories, and have not yet introduced high-end series products.

According to statistics, from the perspective of manufacturers, the global packaging substrate CR10=80%, CR3=36%, the top three manufacturers are Taiwan UNIMICRON technology , Japan’s IBIDEN, South Korea’s Samsung Electro.

Global IC carrier board market landscape

Global IC carrier board market landscape
Global IC carrier board market landscape

Although China mainland enterprises started late and face high industry barriers, they benefit from the huge local market space, industrial supporting and cost advantages, coupled with the gradual transfer of the global semiconductor packaging and testing industry to Chinese mainland in recent years, which is expected to directly drive the demand for packaging materials.

According to the data, global server shipments are expected to reach 14.2 million units in 2022, a year-on-year increase of 10%, and will grow to 17 million units by 2025, with a CAGR of 7.3%.

Moreover, Huawei’s ARM server chips use chiplet packaging to make up for the process disadvantages, which is expected to make up for the gap in the x86 server business, and the supporting demand is favorable to China ABF carrier board manufacturers.

At present, the demand for high-computing power ICs in PCs, servers, and 5G base stations is growing, and the supply of ABF carrier boards continues to exceed demand. The corresponding carrier plate area and processing difficulty have increased, and are expected to become the main growth drivers in the future.

From the perspective of global manufacturer layout, major carrier board manufacturers are actively expanding production, with an average capital expenditure of more than 5 billion yuan, and the main expansion plans are aimed at ABF carrier boards that are currently in short supply, such as leading manufacturer Xinxing Electronics raised its capital expenditure in 2022 to NT$35.858 billion (about 8.07 billion yuan), of which about 60% will be invested in expanding ABF carrier board production capacity, and the rest of the capital investment is also of similar magnitude, with capacity expansion ranging from 30% to 50%.

There are only a few companies in China that can mass-produce BT carrier boards and have a stable source of customers. At present, Chinese PCB factories are expanding IC carrier board production capacity, and the main participating manufacturers include Shennan Circuit, Fastprint Circuit , Zhuhai ACCESS, Victory Giant Technology , WUS Printed Circuit , etc.

ABF carrier board production capacity is more scarce, and China only has Fastprint, Shennan Circuit, Zhuhai ACCESS and other layouts.

China’s copper clad laminate factories are the first manufacturers in the independent layout of IC carrier substrate substrates and adhesive films, including Huazheng New Material and Shengyi Technology.

The chain matching demand of China’s wafer manufacturing and packaging and testing factories will bring alternative space for China carrier board manufacturers.

At present Chinese mainland packaging and testing manufacturers have occupied an important position in the world, and JCET Group, TongFu Microelectronics, and Huatian Technology ranked 3rd/5th/6th in the global market share in 2021, accounting for a total of 20%.

In addition, the main substrate upstream of the ABF carrier board is ABF film, and its production capacity is completely monopolized by Ajinomoto of Japan. The product is derived from the by-product of its monosodium glutamate products, and the extremely high insulation performance meets the needs of non-interference between lines in high-performance chip high-density connection scenarios, and was first adopted by Intel, but there is currently no alternative to mass production. Although Ajinomoto has announced a production increase, the scale of the increase is conservative.

Development trend of IC carrier board

Development trend of IC carrier board
Development trend of IC carrier board

From the perspective of technical trends, the development of packaging technology has driven the development of carrier boards, FC process has become the mainstream, multi-chip 3D packaging, large-size and high-multi-layer substrates are the current development direction.

Due to the development of wafer manufacturing process and the demand for “light, thin and short” in downstream applications, the carrier board has developed to high-density IO/thin/thin line/micro-convex pitch, and after entering the 21st century, FC process has become the mainstream instead of WB.

In order to improve performance, reduce power consumption, and improve I/O, single-chip packaging at this stage will gradually develop to multi-chip or integrated chip packaging, and 3D packaging is also the development direction of the next generation of substrates with high-density bumps and high rigidity. Applications such as 5G/AI/HPC are driving the demand for high multilayer (>22L) and large size (>100mm2) carrier boards.

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