Glass Core substrates: the new race for advanced packaging giants

Intel set up the race, Samsung joined in, and TSMC waited for the ideal moment to complete the trio.

In the advanced packaging industry, the race for innovation has reached a new pivotal moment with the emergence of glass core substrates, announced by Intel in September 2023. This new technology direction comes after the waves of organic and ceramic substrates, holding the promise of overcoming the challenges of the organic core substrates in order to accompany the HPC and AI megatrends in terms of new levels of enhanced performance, efficiency, and scalability in chip design and manufacturing cost. The latter depends on the maturity of the technology and its wide adoption in the end markets.

This article is based on the semiconductor packaging products developed by Yole Group’s analysts. This collection includes Status of the Advanced Substrates IC Industry – •High-End Performance Packaging (2024 edition coming soon) – Status of the Advanced Packaging IndustryAdvanced Packaging Market Monitor…

Glass, as a material, is widely studied and integrated in several semiconductor industries. It represents a significant evolution in the choice of advanced packaging materials, presenting several advantages over their organic and ceramic counterparts. Unlike organic substrates, which have been the mainstream technology for years, glass offers superior dimensional stability, thermal conductivity, and electrical properties.

However, despite the potential benefits, and like any new technology, glass core substrates come with their own set of challenges, not only for the substrate makers but also for the equipment, materials, and inspection tool suppliers.

Bilal Hachemi Technology & Market Analyst, Semiconductor Packaging at Yole Group
The brittleness of glass poses handling and processing issues inside equipment that are not adapted to glass fragments in the case of broken glass, requiring precise care and precision during manufacture. This represents a costly challenge for equipment suppliers and substrate makers. Moreover, glass substrates introduce complexities in inspection and metrology processes, necessitating specialized equipment and techniques to ensure quality and reliability.

Despite these challenges, the adoption of glass core substrates is being driven by several key factors. The demand for larger substrates and form factors, coupled with the technological trend towards chiplets and heterogeneous integration, is pushing the industry towards glass as a potential enabling solution. Moreover, once the technology matures and achieves widespread adoption, the potential cost benefits of glass make it an attractive option for the high-performance computing (HPC) and data center markets.

Since last September, Intel’s pioneering efforts in backing glass core substrates have set the stage for industry-wide adoption. By announcing its plans to opt for glass substrates after a decade of R&D effort and expense, in addition to 600 GCS-related patents, Intel has provided guidance and direction for the industry, encouraging other players to explore this promising technology. Just a few months later, Samsung’s entry into glass substrate production marks a further milestone in the history of this emerging technology and highlights the impact of Intel’s move, as seen in the growing interest and investment in this technology. In parallel to Intel’s efforts, Absolics marked the ongoing history of GCS by having the first substantial investment of $ 600M, funded by SKC. This investment meant Absolics was the first company to focus on producing Glass Core Substrates only with a different technology compared to Intel.

Additionally, the emergence of new players like Absolics and SCHMID (More news), along with the involvement of laser equipment suppliers, display makers, chemistry suppliers, and others, highlights the diverse ecosystem that is shaping around the nascent supply chain for glass core substrates. Collaborations and partnerships are being forged to address the technical and logistical challenges associated with glass substrate manufacturing, signaling a collective effort toward realizing its full potential.

Within this landscape, Through Glass Via (TGV) is one pillar for glass core substrates. TGVs pave the way for more compact and powerful devices. TGVs facilitate a higher density of connections between the layers. These vias contribute to superior signal integrity for high-speed circuits. The reduced distance between connections curtails signal loss and interference, improving overall performance. The integration of TGVs can streamline manufacturing processes by eliminating the need for separate interconnect layers. However, despite their advantages, TGVs have many challenges. Due to the complexity of their manufacturing process, TGVs are more susceptible to defects that could potentially lead to product failures. In addition, TGVs typically imply higher production costs than other solutions. The need for specialized equipment coupled with the risk of defects can contribute to elevated production expenses. Recently, many new TGV-related patents have been granted to laser equipment manufacturers such as LPKF and others. These advancements help to commercialize the glass core substrates and, at the same time, solve the challenges related to glass interposers. This solution can boost both GCS and Glass interposer, holding the promise for an exciting next-generation powerful device.

Furthermore, the synergy between glass core substrates and panel-level packaging (PLP) is driving innovation in both domains. As both technologies utilize similar panel sizes, they present complementary opportunities for enhancing chip density, reducing costs, and improving manufacturing efficiency.

Glass core substrates represent a promising frontier for advanced IC substrates and advanced packaging in general. They offer unparalleled performance and scalability for next-generation chip designs and packages. While challenges remain – as is the case with all new technologies – the concerted efforts of industry leaders and newcomers alike are paving the way for the widespread adoption of glass substrates across various end markets, with a high priority given to AI chips and servers. As GCS technology matures and the supply chain infrastructure evolves, glass core substrates hold the promise of redefining the landscape of advanced packaging.

Yole Group will continue to track the developments in the semiconductor packaging industry and especially advanced IC substrates. Our analysts will observe the announcements from Absolics, Schmid, and others with interest.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Related events

On June 12th, at 4:45pm, discover Yole Group’s presentation: 2.5D & 3D Packaging for Heterogeneous Integration- Technology and Market Overview

Vishal Saroha, Technology & Market Analyst, Semiconductor Equipment, Yole Group

Rayane Mazari, Technology & Cost Analyst, Semiconductor Packaging, will present a special focus on heterogeneous integration on June 20th at 3:25pm: Unlocking the Trends and Challenges in Advanced 3D Heterogeneous Integration Manufacturing

About the author

Bilal Hachemi, Ph.D., is a Technology & Market Analyst, Semiconductor Packaging at Yole Group.

Working within the Manufacturing & Global Supply Chain activities at Yole Group, Bilal contributes daily to the analysis of packaging technologies, their related materials, and manufacturing processes.

Previously, Bilal carried out experimental research in the field of nanoelectronics and nanotechnologies, focusing on emerging dielectric materials and their ferroelectric applications. He (co-) authored several papers in high-impact scientific journals and participated in several international conferences.

Bilal obtained a Ph.D. in nanoelectronics in 2022 from the Grenoble Alpes University (France), and he studied at IAE Grenoble for a management master’s degree.

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