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July 1, 2022

ABF material substrate in short supply

As we all know, semiconductor is a very typical cyclical industry. This feature is reflected in the entire industry chain from upstream equipment and materials, to chip design, and then to wafer manufacturing, even if it is only a small amount required in chip packaging. ABF carrier boards are no exception.
Ten years ago, due to the decline of the desktop and notebook computer markets, the supply of ABF carrier boards was severely oversupplied, and the entire industry fell into a low ebb, but ten years later, the ABF industry has reignited. Goldman Sachs Securities pointed out that the supply gap of ABF substrates will increase from 15% last year to 20% this year, and should continue beyond 2023. More data show that even by 2025, the supply and demand gap of ABF will still be 8.1%.
Going around, so this time, what sounded the "counter-attack horn" of the ABF carrier board again?
"Big Hero" Advanced Packaging
Advanced packaging should be familiar to everyone. In recent years, with the continuous advancement of the chip technology process, in order to continue Moore's Law, advanced packaging has emerged as the times require, and has become a battlefield for major IDM factories and wafer factories to enter. The reason why advanced packaging can become a major contributor to the development of ABF substrates is to start with ABF substrates.
What is an ABF carrier board? The so-called ABF carrier board is one of the IC carrier boards, and the IC carrier board is a product between IC semiconductors and PCBs. As a bridge between the chip and the circuit board, it can protect the circuit integrity and establish a an effective way to dissipate heat.


According to different substrates, IC substrates can be divided into BT substrates and ABF substrates. Compared with BT substrates, ABF material can be used for ICs with thinner lines, suitable for high pin count and high message transmission, and has higher computing power. It is mainly used for high computing performance chips such as CPU, GPU, FPGA, and ASIC.
As mentioned above, advanced packaging is born to continue Moore's Law. The reason is that advanced packaging can help chips integrate with a constant area and promote higher efficiency. Through chiplet packaging technology, individual products from different processes and materials can be Heterogeneous integration technology in which the chip design is placed on the interposer substrate, to integrate these chips together, a larger ABF carrier is required for placement. In other words, the area consumed by the ABF carrier will increase with the chiplet technology, and the larger the area of ​​the carrier, the lower the yield of ABF, and the demand for ABF carrier will further increase.
At present, advanced packaging technologies include FC BGA, FC QFN, 2.5D/3D, WLCSP, Fan-Out and other forms. Among them, FCBGA has become the mainstream packaging technology by virtue of the packaging method of internal FC and external BGA. As the most widely used packaging technology for ABF carrier boards, the number of FCBGA I/Os reaches 32~48, so it has very excellent performance and cost advantages. In addition, the number of I/Os in the 2.5D package is also quite high, which is several times that of the 2D FC package. While the performance of high-end chips is significantly improved, the required ABF carrier board has also become more complex.
Take TSMC's CoWoS technology as an example. Since its first launch in 2012, this packaging technology can be divided into three types: CoWoS-S, CoWoS-R and CoWoS-L according to different Interposer. Currently, the fifth generation CoWoS-S It has entered mass production and is expected to mass-produce the sixth-generation CoWoS-S in 2023. As one of the advanced packaging technologies, CoWoS uses a large number of high-level ABFs, which are higher than FCBGA in terms of area and number of layers, and the yield is much lower than that of FCBGA. From this point of view, a large amount of ABF production capacity is bound to be consumed in the future.
In addition to TSMC, Intel's Embedded Multi-die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB) technology released in 2014 has a number of I/Os as high as 250~1000, which improves the interconnect density of chips and integrates silicon interposers. Embedded in ABF, saving a large area of ​​silicon interposer. Although this move reduces the cost, it increases the area, layers and manufacturing difficulty of the ABF, which will consume more ABF production capacity. It is understood that the Sapphire Rapids of Eagle Stream's new platform will be the first Intel Xeon data center product with EMIB + Chiplet, and it is estimated that the ABF consumption will be more than 1.4 times that of the Whitley platform.
It can be seen that the emergence of advanced packaging technology has undoubtedly become a major contributor to the demand for ABF substrates.
Server and AI field demand upgrade
If advanced packaging technology is a major contributor, then the rise of the two major applications of data center and artificial intelligence is the number one "helper". At present, in order to meet the needs of HPC, AI, Netcom and various infrastructure construction, whether it is CPU, GPU, Netcom chips, or special application chips (ASIC) and other key chips, the speed of content upgrade will be accelerated, and then the speed of content upgrade will be accelerated. The number of high-rises and high-density lines are developing in three directions, and such a development trend is bound to increase the market demand for ABF substrates.
On the one hand, the advanced packaging mentioned above is a powerful tool to increase the computing power of chips and reduce the average price of chips. In addition, the rise of data centers and artificial intelligence has put forward new requirements for computing power. More and more Large computing power chips such as CPU and GPU are beginning to move towards advanced packaging. So far this year, the most shocking should be the M1 Ultra chip launched by Apple in March.
It is understood that the M1 Ultra adopts Apple's custom packaging architecture Ultra Fusion, which is based on TSMC's InFO-L packaging technology. It connects two M1 Max bare die through a silicon interposer to construct an SoC, which can minimize the area and improve the performance. You must know that compared with the packaging technology used in previous processors, the InFO-L packaging technology used by M1 Ultra requires a large area of ​​ABF, which requires twice the area of ​​M1 Max and requires higher precision.
In addition to Apple's M1 Ultra chip, NVIDIA's server GPU Hopper and AMD's RDNA 3 PC GPU will be re-packaged in 2.5D this year. In April this year, there were also media reports that ASE's advanced packaging had entered the supply chain of top US server chip manufacturers.
According to the data compiled by Mega International, among PC CPUs, the ABF consumption area of ​​PC CPU/GPU is predicted to be about 11.0% and 8.9% CAGR respectively from 2022 to 2025, and the consumption area of ​​CPU/GPU 2.5D/3D package ABF is as high as 36.3% respectively. and 99.7% CAGR. In the server CPU, it is predicted that the CPU/GPU ABF consumption area will be about 10.8% and 16.6% CAGR from 2022 to 2025, and the CPU/GPU 2.5D/3D package ABF consumption area will be about 48.5% and 58.6% CAGR.
Various signs mean that the advancement of large computing power chips to advanced packaging will become the main reason for the growth of ABF carrier demand.
On the other hand, it is the rise of new technologies and applications such as AI, 5G, autonomous driving, and the Internet of Things. Taking the most popular metaverse before, AR/VR and other head-mounted display devices are important entrances to the future metaverse, and there are huge chip opportunities hidden behind them, and these chip opportunities will also become the new growth force to promote the growth of the ABF carrier board market. .
Earlier this year, Tianfeng International analyst Ming-Chi Kuo released a report revealing new trends in Apple's AR/MR devices. The report shows that Apple's AR/MR devices will be equipped with dual CPUs, 4nm and 5nm processes, which will be exclusively developed by TSMC; both CPUs use ABF carrier boards, which also means that Apple's AR/MR devices will use dual ABFs carrier board. Ming-Chi Kuo predicts that in 2023/2024/2025, Apple's AR/MR equipment shipments are expected to reach 3 million units, 8-10 million units, and 15-20 million units, corresponding to the demand for ABF carrier boards of 6 million units/16-20 million units. Pieces/30-40 million pieces.
By the way, Apple's goal for AR/MR devices is to replace the iPhone in 10 years. Data shows that there are currently more than 1 billion active iPhone users, and it has been steadily increasing. Even according to current data, Apple needs to sell at least 1 billion AR devices in the next 10 years, which means that only Apple AR/MR devices The number of ABF carrier boards required exceeds 2 billion pieces.
With the addition of major giants such as Google, Meta, Amazon, Qualcomm, ByteDance, etc., the market competition will only be more intense in the future, which will drive the demand for ABF carrier boards to be stronger.


In the face of such a strong market growth trend and the ever-expanding gap between supply and demand, the capacity expansion of ABF carrier board manufacturers has long been put on the agenda.
At present, there are seven major suppliers of ABF carrier boards. In 2021, the supply proportions are Xinxing 21.6%, Jingshuo 7.2%, Nandian 13.5%, Ibiden 19.0%, Shinko 12.1%, AT&S 16.0%, Semco 5.1%, In 2022, all manufacturers except Semco will expand production.


HOREXS proposed an expansion plan as early as 2020, including ABF on the agenda. The HOREXS Huizhou factory mainly produces low-end packaging substrates, the Hubei factory mainly produces mid-to-high-end packaging substrates, and the ABF packaging substrates are planned to be in the third phase of the Hubei factory. Product certification of HOREXS Hubei factory such as SPIL, etc., it is estimated that the first phase of the factory will be put into operation in the second half of 2022, and mass production will begin in August.

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