Deca Technologies: Changing Packaging by 10x
By Francoise von Trapp, Sr. Technical Editor
At an exclusive launch party held at the home and vineyard of Cypress CEO, T.J. Rodgers, the story unfolded about Deca Technologies, a disruptive packaging start-up backed by Cypress and its solar child, SunPower. Francoise von Trapp, Sr. Technical Editor, was there to tell the tale.
November 9, 2011 just might go down in semiconductor history as the date the whole game changed for semiconductor assembly, packaging and test. This day marked the official launch of Deca Technologies, an interconnect technologies company that intends to offer a novel approach to manufacturing processes for wafer level packaging, based not on semiconductor manufacturing but the solar cell manufacturing processes introduced by SunPower Technologies. In an ironic twist, where SunPower had leveraged the semiconductor manufacturing knowhow of its benefactor company, Cypress Semiconductors, to reduce the cost of manufacturing its solar cells; now the semiconductor packaging industry stands to benefit from knowledge based in solar cell manufacturing.
The story began in 2009 with a conversation and a compelling concept. According to Deca CEO and founder, Tim Olson, the idea blossomed out of the unresolved industry need for solutions that address cycle time, cost of ownership, and process flexibility. The inspiration came by example from SunPower, which, according to SunPower CEO Tom Werner, had developed a low cost way to manufacture high-efficiency silicon solar cells in high volume thanks to lessons learned from Cypress. Olson recognized that these proprietary processes could be adapted to re-engineer core processes for wafer level chip scale packaging (WLCSP). Additionally, as a member of Cypress Semiconductor's technical advisory board, Olson had witnessed the company's ability to breathe life back into SunPower, turning it from a company on the brink of collapse in 2003 to one that reported revenue of $2.2B in 2010. So he approached TJ Rodgers, CEO of Cypress, with the idea. With $35M in seed money from Cypress, work got underway.
Cypress CEO, TJ Rodgers, has vision and likes to take risks. An engineer with degrees in chemistry and physics, he's always looking for a better way to do things. When he's not running Cypress, he's on a quest to produce "the best Pinot Noir in the "New World." He's done a careful and thorough study of French winemaking processes, and has simulated conditions and processes from France to produce a high-end wine at his winery, Clos de la Tech, in Woodside CA. He's a purist in winemaking; the grapes are foot crushed and never come into contact with machinery (Figure 1). The only nod to technology is his custom-designed fermentation controller system from Cypress, where he puts Cypress engineers to work creating systems to gather and analyze data from the tanks, using RF devices to transmit the data to a computer. No expense is spared in this endeavor. "How do you make a small fortune in the wine industry?" Rodgers queried, "Start with a large fortune."
Figure 1: TJ Rodgers explains wine making to the press corps. He holds the waders his wife, Valeta, wears to stomp the grapes.
But where Rodger's is willing to take a loss for the sake of the wine, he's not willing to take a loss for the sake of technology improvements. For example, he abandoned a project on solid state lighting when he realized that the end product couldn't compete with standard lighting on asking selling price (ASP). That's why Cypress invested in SunPower, because he saw opportunity to improve manufacturing processes to reduce the cost of a wafer from $1000/wafer to $10/wafer. Transferring that technology knowledge to Deca Technologies for WLCSP, Rodgers is looking beyond the initial product offering of the WLCSP to the next product on the drawing board; silicon substrates, which up until now have been too costly to become mainstream. "If you can make a wafer for $10, then you can make silicon interconnects that you can put chips on," notes Rodgers, adding that it's about making something both cheaper and better. While WLCSPs are a better performing technology than wire bonded packages, they are more expensive to make. But Deca's technology takes the cost out, reportedly achieving a cheaper WLCSP while retaining high performance.
Deca's Secret Sauce
Deca's success depends on a careful blend of unique manufacturing based on SunPower's continuous wafer flow line rather than a batch process approach; and custom proprietary equipment from suppliers outside the traditional semiconductor equipment manufacturing realm. It's WLCSP process is nearly parallel to SunPower's solar cell back-end of line (BEOL) processes. "We have special stuff that nobody in the world has because of SunPower," notes Olson, adding that exclusivity with suppliers is the key. He said that getting suppliers to agree to exclusivity agreements was a daunting task, but in the end, they were able to accomplish just that, with some agreements for an indefinite amount of time, and others that are for a minimum of five years. Additionally, the company is hyper-careful with its trade secrets, requiring extreme sensitivity throughout its workforce and restricting access to the manufacturing lines. Olson also said that they have highly educated technicians running the processes at the facility, located within SunPower's complex in the Philippines. "All our manufacturing technologists are English-speaking, degree-level engineers," he said.
Deca's technology spans interconnect levels from chip to package to system, noted Olson, and offer exponential improvements in speed, cost and flexibility. Its first products are in the WLCSP family (Figures 2)
Figure 2: Deca's first product is a fan-in WLSCP available in three different configurations.
Acknowledging that these are "me too" products, Olson explained that the company's strategy is to enter the market with existing products that are manufactured in breakthrough cycle time; at the lowest total cost of ownership; and can be taken from design to manufacturing in minutes rather than days. This path is the quickest to a solid revenue stream. Next on Deca's roadmap is the technology that has Rodgers all excited: silicon substrates that could provide the cost improved solution for silicon interposer technology.
Ready out of the Gate
With its eye keenly on the analog power management and RF connectivity markets, Deca is ready to roll. "This is not just an idea," noted Olson. "We are ready to go to production." He claims the company achieved 97% yield on the first wafer that went through the line. Now they're achieving above 99% yield. They are fully staffed for one shift and by Q2 2012 anticipate 24/7 operation.
At the time of the launch, Deca has engaged six customers, five of whom report in excess of $1B revenue/year. Olson said the first customer is qualified for production; the next three are undergoing qualification. He anticipates two remaining customers to begin qualification within 90 days. The company expects a significant production ramp by Q4 2012. "2013 will be our first big year," says Olson. This will undoubtedly be an exciting company to watch.