Cirtek found gold in copper

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
by: Irma Isip

A little-known semiconductor company has found a way to stay above the competition in the assembly and test business.

Cirtek, a subcontractor or outsourced semiconductor and assembly and test (OSAT) firm since 1984, has struck gold in copper when it found the latter an alternative raw material in wire bonding integrated chip assembly.

Antonio Callueng, senior director for sales and marketing of the Laguna-based company, said rising gold prices prompted Cirtek to develop copper as a ball bonding material back in 2006 and the innovation has proven to a cost advantage for Cirtek and its customers.

“Instead of gold, copper wire has now become one of the preferred materials for wire bonding in many semiconductor and microelectronic applications because of the significant cost savings generated,” Callueng said.

Back in 2006 when gold prices surged from $600 per ounce to $1,200, companies like Cirtek immediately felt the impact on the cost of production.

The company put its development team at work to find alternative materials and, after two years, Cirtek started introducing the copper wire bonding material to its customers with price improvements.

To date, Cirtek has shipped about 288 million units of semiconductor packages since copper wire bonding was introduced in 2008 without a single quality deviation or quality complaint from customers.

“The technology enabled Cirtek customers to maintain competitive advantage globally without compromising the performance of the devices. We were also able to maintain the integrity and quality of the products distributed worldwide,” Callueng said.

In semiconductor assembly packaging, Callueng explained, wire bonding is the primary method of making interconnections between an integrated circuit (IC) and a metal lead frame or printed circuit board (PCB). Wire bonding is generally considered the most cost-effective and flexible interconnect technology, and is used to assemble the vast majority of semiconductor packages.

Normally, pure gold wire, doped with controlled amounts of other elements, is used for ball bonding, a process that welds together the two materials using heat, pressure and ultrasonic energy, referred to as thermosonic bonding.

The most common approach in thermosonic bonding is to ball-bond to the chip, then stitch-bond to another metal usually coated with gold or silver over copper. Very tight controls during processing enhance looping characteristics and eliminate sagging.

According to Callueng, this is the most common wire bonding technique in the semiconductor industry today.

Copper is used for fine wire ball bonding in sizes up to 0.002 inch (50 micrometers). Copper wire can used in smaller diameters while providing the same performance as gold without the high material cost.

ICs and PCs assembled and tested by Cirtek for integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) go to mobile phones, laptops and other electronic gadgets made by original equipment manufacturers.

Cirtek is expanding aggressively its manufacturing capabilities as it rides the continuing rise in demand attributed to the fast growth of technology and new product introductions.

Cirtek plans to become the first Philippine semiconductor maker to list independently in the stock exchange. Officials are mum on the plan to go public but sources said up to 35 percent of the company’s shares will be listed in the next two months.

Founded by Jerry Liu in 1984 as an independent OSAT, Cirtek provides complete turnkey solutions that include services from wafer probe, wafer back grinding, assembly and packaging, and final testing of semiconductor devices to drop shipments to customer’s end users.

With package offerings ranging from single IC to multiple die assembly and from simple components assembly to complex networks multi-component devices, Cirtek provides services to customer-specific preferences or standard applications devices that are compliant or exceeding international quality standards.

Registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, Cirtek has a factory at the Laguna Technopark Inc.

Callueng said Cirtek plans to build a third building at the Laguna Technopark plant and install additional equipment and machinery to accommodate the expansion

The new building will add 180,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The new equipment will be composed of automatic and semi-automatic and machineries that will allow the company to accept additional volume orders for existing and new products. This is expected to double current production capacity.