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Calumet Goals to Shut IC Substrate Hole in U.S.

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Calumet Electronics is working to be one of many first IC substrate suppliers in america, serving to to fill a crucial hole within the home electronics provide chain.

“Calumet can be one of many first, if not the primary, to deliver scalable IC substrate capability to america,” COO Todd Brassard mentioned in an unique interview with EE Occasions. “We’ve got been creating this functionality for about three years. We’re practically accomplished with our first substrate demo-builds in cooperation with a couple of protection and industrial OEMs. We aren’t even in manufacturing but, and potential demand for our substrates is already over 1.5 million items a yr.”

The built-in circuit substrate trade, value $10 billion yearly, is certainly all positioned in Asia. Because the U.S. authorities goals to rebuild an electronics ecosystem with the assist of the just lately handed CHIPS Act, trade consultants say IC substrates are more likely to stay one of many weakest hyperlinks within the home provide chain.

Calumet Electronics CEO Todd Brassard speaks with Chris Pilkerton, the U.S. Small Enterprise Affiliation appearing administrator, throughout a 2019 tour of the Calumet Electronics facility in Calumet, Michigan. Pilkerton’s go to was a part of the nationwide initiative to develop packages that assist American employees. (Supply: Adam Johnson/Brockit)

Whereas chips proceed to shrink, the printed circuit boards (PCBs) connecting ICs have lagged that miniaturization pattern. IC substrates act as interposers, bridging the dense I/O connections on chips with the a lot wider line-pitch widths on PCBs. With out IC substrates within the manufacturing ecosystem, the U.S. lacks a whole provide chain, significantly for electronics utilized in protection techniques.

“On one aspect of our enterprise, we’ve prime protection and industrial OEMs with powerful design challenges to resolve which are experiencing ever-increasing dangers with their Asia provide chains, with few or no home sourcing choices,” Brassard mentioned. “And on the opposite aspect, we’ve home supplies and chemical suppliers with modern applied sciences, and gear producers rallying to be a part of the answer. Within the center is the fabricator, like Calumet, who should sew novel options along with shut collaboration from trade consultants.”

Calumet is making a kind of IC substrate with semi-additive copper function formations.

Matt Kelly, the chief technologist at world electronics affiliation IPC, mentioned in March that the U.S. is as many as 25 years behind Asia in substrates.

Main suppliers

The main suppliers are Unimicron and ASE Group of Taiwan, Ibiden of Japan, and SCC of China. Unimicron has invested greater than $700 million in R&D and capability growth for superior flip-chip substrates by means of 2022, in line with market watcher Mordor Intelligence.

North America has no functionality to supply superior flip-chip ball-grid array (FCBGA) or flip-chip chip-scale packaging (FCCSP) substrates, in line with a November 2021 IPC report, the newest report accessible from IPC. To grow to be a participant within the FCBGA phase, it takes an funding of at the very least $1 billion, the report mentioned.

With no North American provide of substrates, chips made within the U.S. must be shipped to Asia after which again to the U.S., successfully lengthening the availability chain, the IPC report mentioned.

“We’re one of many few PCB producers that survived offshoring to Asia from 2003 to 2015, and never simply: by the pores and skin of our enamel,” Brassard mentioned. “We determined to attempt to offshore-proof ourselves by pushing into work that may’t be accomplished offshore. That finally ends up being protection, aerospace, medical, merchandise beneath export controls, like ITAR, however extra usually, issues which have mental property.”

In the course of the unique video name with EE Occasions, Brassard confirmed a prototype substrate however declined to permit photographs.

“I’ve already pushed the bounds simply holding this up,” he mentioned, nodding towards extra on a desk in his workplace that he doesn’t dare to point out.

Calumet goals to provide custom-designed substrates to protection contractors, which account for about 8% of the corporate’s enterprise, in addition to different clients making gear for 5G, satellite tv for pc communications, and well being care.

One of many Division of Protection contractors that Calumet is working with wants superior packaging, together with hyper-small, hyper-fast interposers, Brassard mentioned.

“We’ve got discovered that an OEM can go to Japan and say, ‘We’d like a particular {custom} substrate at very low quantity,’ they usually’ll say, ‘Sorry, we’re not within the enterprise,’ and American firms can’t compel one other nation to supply merchandise for the U.S.”

Filling an order for substrates from Japan can take years, in line with Brassard.

“We all know one firm that ordered a thousand substrates from Japan in 2019, however they nonetheless don’t have them. Japan might also put end-use restrictions on merchandise. They don’t essentially need their merchandise to be integrated into war-fighter finish purposes.”

PCB maker

Calumet, with about 350 staff, ranks among the many high 5 U.S. PCB manufacturing services beneath one roof by capability, Brassard mentioned. “We’re a small enterprise, however we ship 4 million circuit boards a yr.”

In the course of the Covid pandemic, when the Asian provide of PCBs for ventilators vanished, Calumet produced 235,000 circuit boards in about three months to fulfill demand, Brassard mentioned.

“We’re on the level the place we’ve solely two or three firms in america that may produce very advanced, high-density interconnect circuit boards. We could also be, so far as we will inform, the one, or at the very least one among a only a few, PCB retailers within the U.S. that’s creating manufacturing capabilities for natural substrates to assist fill a significant hole within the home microelectronics ecosystem.” Brassard added, “Report demand of standard circuit boards makes it unattractive for PCB producers to tackle the excessive prices of R&D and scaling extra advanced applied sciences now that their revenue margins are enhancing after a 20-year drought.”

To ramp up manufacturing for PCBs, Calumet has been investing in processes like electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG) end, scorching press, and copper plating capability. Investments for substrates embrace fine-line lithography gear and instruments for high-density electrical take a look at and optical inspection.

“We’ve got so many digital techniques that typically you begin listening to the robotic overlords as an alternative of your employees who’re on the road, and also you don’t wish to do this,” Brassard mentioned.

“Advancing workforce goes to be important in america, in addition to beginning to acknowledge that jobs in manufacturing are prestigious. That’s one factor Asia does higher than we do.”

The corporate goals for yields of as much as 90% on its superior PCBs.

“Every single circuit board goes to be extremely worthwhile,” Brassard mentioned. “A mistake on a $300 panel could be very totally different than making a mistake on a $20,000 panel or a $200,000 panel.”

That quest for prime yield will rely on nearer communication that helps obtain manufacturing success.

“We’ve got fractured our manufacturing throughout the nation and internationally, and we will’t talk with one another very successfully, so we will’t innovate,” in line with Brassard. “Innovation doesn’t come by means of moments of inspiration. It comes by means of iteration.”

There are indicators that U.S. electronics producers are extra conscious of the dangers they face.

“Some OEMs haven’t discovered that they’ve an issue but; others have accomplished the analysis, accomplished the surveys, seemed throughout their huge organizations, and drawn some conclusions that there’s not sufficient capability within the trade to serve their firm, not to mention all firms, all of the protection and industrial OEMs,” Brassard mentioned. “We’ve got additionally had some distinguished manufacturers asking us about substrate capability. They’re asking us, ‘Are you able to decide to constructing 1,000,000 of these items in 2023?’”

Brassard pointed to the vulnerabilities of what he calls a “FedEx provide chain”:

“It goes forwards and backwards, and there are such a lot of alternatives for unhealthy actors to intervene. We’re dedicated to U.S. manufacturing. We caught to it, and it nearly value us our firm for some time there, again in 2007, 2008, when all of the PCB retailers have been getting wiped off the planet.”



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