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Caveat Lector

Mike Buetow

FPGAs are a multibillion-dollar business, characterized by suppliers like Xilinx, MicroChip, Texas Instruments and Cypress Semiconductor. So why are they reliant on a single source for copper-wrapped solder column attachment?

And not just any source. Six Sigma is a small, founder-run Silicon Valley-based company. For more than 30 years, it has performed a variety of third-party services, including solder dipping, BGA reballing, and solderability testing. It also happens to be the sole supplier of copper-wrapped solder column attachment services to the major FPGA vendors. And according to industry watchers, that leaves the supply chain in something of a pickle.

The risk with any sole source is something happens that affects their ability to make deliveries. Such an outcome would spell disaster for the high-rel companies that use column grid arrays (CGAs). And loss of access to the unique copper-wrapped columns used in key programs, including military and space, would put those applications at severe risk.

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Mike Buetow

When I first started in electronics back in 1991, through-hole was still dominant and SMT was just taking hold. It wasn’t long after, however, when we began hearing about multichip modules, or MCMs. Conferences sprung up, publishers dedicated entire issues to the subject, and trade groups started writing standards.

And then … not much. MCMs never became the dominant packaging style some analysts predicted.

But will they?

When the Semiconductor Industry Association ceased its roadmapping activities, a host of organizations, including IEEE, SEMI, ASME and others, jumped in. Last month, they launched the second edition of the Heterogeneous Integration Roadmap. Heterogeneous integration refers to the integration of separately manufactured components into a higher-level assembly (SiP) that, in the aggregate, provides enhanced functionality and improved operating characteristics.

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Mike BuetowIt was 16 years ago this month when a group of Chicago-area printed circuit board manufacturers stuck a flag in the ground and declared themselves the new vanguard of the American industry. At an early meeting, leaders called free trade “the seed of our own destruction,” and railed against the devastation of the domestic fab industry.

They called on public officials to fight China on currency manipulation and tariffs, and to enact trade policy that better fit the current state of the domestic market. Nothing less than the long-term security of the US was at stake.

The group had a point: Domestic PCB production had fallen by half in three years to $5 billion. Not only was no recovery in sight, but in some cases the deck seemed stacked against them. For instance, raw materials imported to the US from Asia were assessed tariffs, but assembled PCBs were not. Ouch.

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