AI Accelerators and HPC: Latest Innovations in the Advanced IC Substrates Market

This market research report was originally published at the Yole Group’s website. It is reprinted here with the permission of the Yole Group.

The demands and complex requirements of the semiconductor industry were a key driver, transformation enabler, and innovation-inducer of the advanced packaging industry, including the market of advanced IC substrates. While the advanced packaging represented and still represents the stage of innovation to empower the More than Moore era, the advanced IC substrates played the role of the base ground supporting the advanced packaging solutions to the HPC and AI applications.

Today, Bilal Hachemi, Technology & Market Analyst, Semiconductor Packaging at Yole Group, invites you to dive deep into the semiconductor packaging industry and better understand advanced IC substrates and applications.

What is the status of the technologies? What are the latest innovations pushed by AI accelerators and HPC applications? What does the market stand for?… Let us have a stop and read Yole Group’s viewpoint.

This analysis has been extracted from the following products: Status of the Advanced IC Substrate Industry 2023System-in-Package 2023High-end Performance Packaging 2023 (2024 edition coming soon) – Memory Packaging 2023Advanced Packaging Market Monitor… and more.

Both advanced packaging and advanced IC substrates form the foundation for powerful and efficient AI accelerators and high-performance computing (HPC) applications. As the AI wave rose, it initiated a big challenge to the AICS industry to empower the next-gen AI and HPC products. This AI-focused challenge from the HPC market not only pushed the substrate players to increase the layer count and change the form factor of the organic substrates but also pushed Intel to adopt new kinds of IC substrates based on the glass core. Each of these advancements fuels the progress of the other, leading to the better serving of today’s primary driver: AI.

Market overview: robust growth driven by innovation and adaptability

The advanced IC substrate market is undergoing notable growth, projected to reach $28.96 billion by 2028, with a CAGR of 11%, as illustrated in Figure 1. This growth is primarily driven by the widespread adoption of FC BGA packages, heavily used in AI accelerators, HPC, and 5G applications. The demand for this packaging technology is so high that it has led to a significant backlog for ABF material, a vital element of FC BGAs. Simultaneously, this demand was the major motivation for many expansions and new plants for the substrate makers.

In terms of investments, the advanced IC substrates industry witnessed strong action from the substrate makers in this direction between 2021 and 2022, exceeding $15B due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the surging demand for HPC. This first investment action is being followed by a second one, mainly inspired by the AI wave and governmental initiatives, such as the Chips Act, to secure the local IC substrate’s ecosystem.

Solid supply chain with diversification attempts

Three Asian powerhouses currently dominate the global advanced IC substrate market:

  • Taiwan, the mainland of Advanced Packaging, has a significant market share in both markets, as shown in Figure 2, due to its established infrastructure and advanced manufacturing capabilities. Leading AP companies such as TSMC and ASE, supported by Unimicron, Nan Ya PCB, and other substrate makers, contribute significantly to the global supply chain.
  • Japan has a significant market share due to renowned companies like Ibiden and Shinko supplying high-quality substrates, particularly for high-end applications.
  • South Korea: With big players like Samsung in AP and substrate makers like Semco, Daeduck, and LG Innotek, South Korea supplies to both domestic and international tech giants.

“While production remains concentrated mainly in Asia, efforts are underway to diversify supply chains and reinforce local resilience in Europe and the US. Government incentives and growing investments, particularly from new market players, are potential drivers for this diversification. However, challenges remain, such as ensuring quality standards and establishing strong infrastructure in these regions.”
Bilal Hachemi
Technology and Market Analyst for Semiconductor Packaging, Yole Group

Continuous innovation within the emerging technologies

The increasingly complex requirements of the different markets like HPC, mobile and consumer, and automotive, due to the relentless pursuit of miniaturization and enhanced performance, are propelling the development of substrate technologies. They can be highlighted in the following trends: 1) increased layer count and finer line pitches, enabling more functionalities and improved signal integrity within the package. 2) adopting various manufacturing processes such as semi-additive (SAP, mSAP, amSAP). These processes streamline production, reduce costs, and enhance overall efficiency.

While established technologies like ABF-based build-up substrates remain dominant, alternative technologies are gaining traction. For example, MIS (Molded Interconnect Substrate) targets low-end applications, while HD FO (High-Density Fan-Out) finds its niche in high-end segments, particularly with APUs (Accelerated Processing Units). Additionally, advancements in thin-film RDLs are crucial for achieving desired low L/S (line-to-space) ratios, high I/O densities, and compact form factors.

Advanced IC substrates are empowering high-end applications in several markets by adapting to the specific requirements of each application. SLP (Substrate-like-PCB) is the substrate technology that enables 5G flagship smartphones and emphasizes miniaturization. It has been widely adopted in this market due to the mSAP process and L/S reduction to 25/25μm. Key players like Apple, Samsung, and others have embraced SLP, and further adoption is expected in the medical and automotive sectors.

Another substrate technology is ED (Embedded Die), evolving from single to multi-die integration, incorporating active and passive components. This improvement paves the way for higher ASPs and lower L/S in the future, unlocking new application possibilities. ED is especially envisioned to accommodate high-rated power devices, opening doors for high-power applications.

The innovation technology in the IC substrate industry is highlighted by the adoption of the glass core substrate, i.e., a new core material. This long-awaited adoption represents the flexibility of the IC substrate market to adopt new materials, new processes, and even new players with different business models, such as IDMs and display makers. The GCS is prepared further to push high-end applications like AI servers and chips. Expected to hit the market in the second half of the current decade, GCS is expected to push the boundaries of performance beyond the capabilities of current organic substrates. Initial commercialization is predicted in AI, server, and data center applications, marking a promising new frontier in substrate technology after resolving the current challenges.

A look ahead: more opportunities but bigger challenges

The future of advanced IC substrates presents exciting opportunities alongside significant challenges for both cores, organic and glass. The main challenges facing the IC substrate industry include 1) management of the extended lead times for equipment and materials and 2) addressing standardization issues for specific technologies to allow for smooth integration and widespread adoption of emerging technologies. 3) Maintaining the pace of innovation to keep up with the ever-evolving semiconductor industry demands.

Advanced substrate IC market: what could we expect?

The role of advanced IC substrates is gaining importance from one quarter to another in developing cutting-edge technologies. The synergy between the high-end applications, advanced packaging, and the advanced substrates drives enhanced performance and continuous innovation across the semiconductor landscape. By addressing the existing challenges and embracing rising trends, the advanced IC substrate market will witness healthy growth and a more important role in the equation, increasing performance at a lower cost.

Stay tuned to yolegroup.com to get more information about our coming analyses!

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