Manufacturing packaging and assembly of advanced and highly integrated electronics

Academic Institution: Heriot Watt University

Academic Supervisor: Professor George Goussetis

Industry Partner: Sofant Technologies Ltd

PhD Student: Salvatore Liberto

Start Date: 1st October 2019


Sofant is a technology company incorporated to exploit intellectual property developed at the University of Edinburgh relating to MEMS devices for wireless applications at mm-wave frequencies. Strategic route to exploitation rests with the development of mm-wave systems for emerging services, such as 5G and driverless cars, which outperform competitive offerings by virtue of the improved characteristics of the RF MEMS. In particular, the thermal dissipation associated with existing semiconductor devices at mm-wave frequencies emerges as a key bottleneck in the development of low-cost and power-efficient mm-wave wireless terminals with tracking capabilities. RF MEMS bring attractive characteristics to replace traditional semiconductor switches or phase shifters by virtue of the underlying physics of their operation, the reduced size of the devices at higher frequencies as well as the major improvements in reliability of MEMS devices over the past years.

Recent R&D has proven both the favourable performance, robustness and scalability of Sofant’s RF MEMS technology. The delivery of competitive offerings now critically rests with the development of high yield manufacturing processes for mass producible MEMS-enabled mm-wave terminals. In these systems, the need for high level of compactness is calling for advanced PCB solutions capable of delivering complex signal routing and antenna beam steering while integrating additional functions such as thermal management and multiple electrical interfaces. Further attention is required by the parasitic effects associated with interconnects, which at higher frequencies may give rise to elevated degradation of the electrical response. Ultimately, production efficiency priorities call for testing and validation as an integrated process of the system manufacturing process.

This project aims to address core manufacturing challenges associated with the above landscape. A central aim is the definition of suitable multilayer PCB & multi-substrate stacks and associated processing methodologies, which are capable of delivering the desired performance across a range of environmental conditions. Research will focus on the impact of material properties and their impact during processing and operation towards assemblies with well-defined electrical and mechanical characteristics. It will also address the manufacturing of electrically and mechanically robust interconnects maintaining acceptable tolerances across large surface areas. The design for manufacturing research to be pursued will further target to integrate verification as part of the assembly process, such that errors can be identified early in the cycle and hence enable timely corrective actions.