By Kim Sung-yoon
COVINGTON, Georgia, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) — SKC’s city campus is located about 56 kilometers east of Atlanta, where SK’s chemicals unit, South Korea’s energy-to-telecom conglomerate, built its first US production facility in 1999 as a film developer. PET.
More than two decades later, SKC is building a new facility on the same site, and strives to become the first company to mass-produce unique glass-based semiconductor packaging, which is an industry breakthrough that will likely do away with widely used plastics and silicones. Today .
The idea of using glass as a semiconductor substrate, a thin layer on which various chips are superimposed to act as the underlying computing system, has been around for years, but SKC was the first to capitalize on the technology, Oh John Rooke, CEO of Absolics Inc. Inc., a subsidiary of Georgia-based chip packaging company SKC, during a press tour Jan. 9 (local time).
“It’s like Columbus’ egg. He who thinks about it first and then pulls it out,” Oh said.
The concept was developed and studied by the Packaging Research Center at Georgia Institute of Technology, with which SKC has maintained a long-term business-academic relationship of cooperation.
As a Korean company, SKC was familiar with the highly advanced display technologies and semiconductor component making that South Korean companies had, Oh said, and his team came up with the idea to bring it to the concept of a glass substrate.
“We marketed the idea of integrating Georgia Tech’s proprietary glass technologies and Korean equipment manufacturers’ glass processing skills,” Oh said.
“We believe that in the next 10 years, who will dominate the next generation of semiconductor packaging technology will decide the fate of that country as a semiconductor powerhouse or to be left behind,” he said.
Since it launched the initial glass substrate development project in 2018, SKC has developed more than 200 processing technologies and related equipment designed for glass substrate manufacturing. It has obtained patents for about 20 technologies with the US authorities.
The fired glass substrate has a quarter thickness of the industry standard because it removes the silicon commonly used as an intermediate layer in existing plastic substrates.
Its hard but smooth surface allows for precise chip engraving and reduces the risk of warping that has been cited as a problem with plastic substrates.
A multilayer ceramic capacitor (MLCC), a key chip component that controls current flow in the circuit, will be embedded in the glass, providing more room to add more memory chips on the board and allowing for miniaturization of the package. This also greatly enhances energy efficiency.
These strengths make them ideal for advanced semiconductor applications involving high-performance computing, such as artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, high-speed communications and large data centers, to name a few.
An Absolics simulation in a data center in Seoul, operated by a major telecom company, found that data throughput increased eightfold when glass substrates were used.
In November last year, Absolics started work on the same campus in SKC, to build a facility to manufacture glass substrates under a planned investment of US$600 million.
Absolics plans to build the first smaller-sized facility by the end of this year and start mass production in the second quarter of next year.
The second facility, under a mass manufacturing ramp, will be built over the next three to five years.
Under the plan, Absolics aims to produce 12,000 square meters of glass substrates annually, and increase production capacity to 72,000 square meters annually based on large manufacturing volume.
Park Ho-seok, chief operating officer of Absolics, said that once large-scale mass production begins, demand from global chipmakers is expected to increase.
“In terms of large manufacturing volume, we expect demand to be at least three to six times higher,” Park said.
Several tests are underway with potential customers for the substrates, Park said, and the list, which he declined to name citing a confidentiality agreement, includes “top-tier” chipmakers and some other military-related companies.
Despite the bleak outlook for the semiconductor market, the high-end semiconductor segment is expected to grow 7 percent annually due to strong demand for high-performance computing, according to SKC.
Semiconductor packaging for the HPC segment is expected to expand 13.4 percent annually.
“We hope that we can help create an ecosystem for high-end semiconductor packaging and that South Korea will take the lead in the industry in the next decade,” Oh said.
“This will be another turning point.”