CHIP CHALLENGEForging the Future of U.S. Microelectronics Manufacturing

Published 22 August 2022

U.S. initiatives are necessary to fortify access and restore the supply chains underpinning modern communications, travel, national security, and manufacturing. Foundational new program will fuel domestic microsystem innovations beyond today’s 2D limitations.

Amid ongoing shortages in integral semiconductor chips, new U.S. initiatives are necessary to fortify access and restore the supply chains underpinning modern communications, travel, national security, and manufacturing. However, longer-term solutions require research, development, and innovative breakthroughs that will transform future technological performance and scalability.

That next major wave in microelectronics manufacturing will require the heterogeneous integration of disparate materials and components, enabled by advanced packaging that leverages all three dimensions. The development of three-dimensional heterogeneously integrated (3DHI) technologies represents today’s key objective to enable the disruptive microsystems of tomorrow. 3DHI provides the ability to stack separately manufactured components – chips or wafers originating in different facilities, containing different semiconductors and materials – within a single package that catalyzes revolutionary improvements in functionality and performance.

DARPA’s Next-Generation Microelectronics Manufacturing (NGMM) aims to create a novel, U.S.-based center for R&D and manufacturing 3DHI microsystems. Currently the United States lacks the financial backing, physical facilities, and organizational support for a national hub for public-private research, development, and engagement in 3DHI. Aligning these critical pieces through a centralized, open-access capability is essential to the next major wave of microelectronics innovation.

“The ability to perform onshore 3DHI R&D and prototyping for silicon-based components is hindered by the lack of integrated design tools and assembly/packaging/testing facilities. There is extremely limited capability for non-silicon-based 3DHI,” said Carl McCants, who leads the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), including the follow-on ERI 2.0 initiative, as a special assistant to the DARPA director. “This program’s emphasis on pre-competitive collaboration across industry, defense, and academic partners should widen the range of stakeholders participating in 3DHI innovation, accelerate design innovations, and enhance testing, reliability, and security for these microsystems.”

By establishing the first domestic, open-access facility for producing next-generation 3DHI prototypes, NGMM will launch a national accelerator in the form of a pilot-line manufacturing facility. Users from across the country can assemble and test their R&D designs without the need for costly investments. Instead, a wider variety of innovators can collaborate under a centralized, holistic approach to advancing, standardizing, and expediting domestic 3DHI prototyping. DARPA aims to transition the capabilities developed in NGMM to the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP), which is associated with the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC).

For U.S. armed forces, supply chain disruptions threaten the ability to maintain technological superiority in an increasingly competitive environment. Beyond the near-term concerns, broader U.S. national security in many ways depends on securing sustained, long-term leadership in next-generation microelectronics – the foundation of ERI 2.0. Without this technological advantage, the United States will quickly fall behind in crucial areas including artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and robotics, communications and networking, and networked sensing, among other key capabilities on which U.S. forces rely.

The first phase of NGMM, Phase 0, will inform planning for a domestic 3DHI manufacturing center. DARPA expects proposers to use the approximately six-month period to form teams that will identify, define, analyze, and make expert recommendations for exemplar 3DHI microsystems as well as the equipment, processes, hardware and software tools, and facility requirements to manufacture these microsystems. Later phases will leverage expertise in establishing the open-access center, qualifying and maturing processes, and operationalizing capabilities.