Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's What's Inside That Counts: Embedded Components

Gail Flower, editor-in-chief
Recently, PCB fabricator Ibiden Co. Ltd., with more than 12,000 employees and about $4 billion in consolidated annual sales, announced that they would be licensing Finland-based Imbera's embedded packaging technology. Therefore, we knew that this had to be a solid way to embed components into the PCB. When you think about creating a functionally dense system, the directions seem to be building up — a stacked package — or down — into the board material in an embedded active or passive device.

When the opportunity arrived to talk to Risto Tuominen, CTO of Imbera, and Jeff Baloun, CEO, about their technology, I jumped at it. "Right now, telecom seems to be driving more function, higher speed, higher reliability, lower energy consumption, smaller size, and lower cost products," said Baloun.

"Traditionally the PCB structure was designed to form an electrical contact between the surface mounted components," added Tuominen. The PCB acted as a support with functionality limited to electrical interconnection. But PCBs have a high percent of unused space, which can be home for embedded components. Component embedding transforms a board into an intelligent, high-value system that provides the core for future enhancements. The whole PCB is used for component assembly. "Size reduction, increased functionality, improved thermal performance, and better electrical performances are just a few of the advantages," stated Tuominen.

The Imbera Integrated Module Board (IMB) technology starts out with active and passive component attachment. The next step builds up the core board over the components. Next, the core pressing stage takes place and vias are formed. The final step involves PCB processing with plating and patterning stages. Benefits? It is a short and robust manufacturing process for passive and active component integration. It can accommodate novel structure designs such as 3D grounds for EMI shielding or 3D component assembly. There's no wire bonding. Thermal vias on the front and back sides improve heat conductivity. It works with system in package (SiP) modules, single IC packages, or system in board (SIB)motherboards.

Imbera's process is based on a technology developed in 2005, when the third-generation IMB technology prototype products were introduced in low volumes. In some products, four-layer motherboards had two embedded silicon components with 99.97% yields. Imbera's goal, however, is to ramp this technology into high-volume production during 2008 and 2009, and that's what the Ibiden licensing agreement is all about.

I asked about board repair with embedded components. It wouldn't be easy, according to the experts. However, embedding is aimed more for advanced consumer electronics, where replacement is more common than repair. I'm expecting many more products to use this technology in the future.

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