Researchers air ideas on eliminating solder

By nature, research projects are surrounded by an air of uncertainty, many of them never progress outside the laboratory. But over time, many of them bear fruit and move into the mainstream.
If two projects announced last month gain market acceptance and becomes a success story, they will a have significant impact on board fabrication and assembly. Semiconductor Research Corp. and Georgia Tech are working on techniques that replace solder with copper, as well as one that uses air as a dielectric. SRC, a 28-year old consortium made of universities and chipmakers, has already been granted 326 patents, so the $1.3 billion total investment has had some payoff. Georgia Tech also has a solid reputation.
The researchers are attempting to find ways to improve high frequency performance by reducing the amount of energy it takes to move a bit from one piece of silicon to another. They’re looking at new processes that make air the dielectric, while also looking at differential pair conductors and multi-layer structures that use two or more layers of air-clad interconnect to further reduce energy loss.
The other aspect of the project is to eliminate solder, which is only non-copper element in chips and boards. Solder limits both the density and performance of flip-chip connections between chips and boards. Replacing solder with all-copper connections such as shielded or co-axial shapes that enable higher densities and offer better performance than current solder materials.
It’s pretty early to see how these programs might work in high volume production runs. But any time someone’s looking into technologies that make yours obsolete, it’s something that bears watching.

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