In this episode of the OnTrack Podcast, we chat with Dr. Preeya Kuray, a renowned material scientist at AGC Multi Materials. Dr. Kuray and Tech Consultant Zach Peterson explore some of the latest developments in the PCB industry, as well as a few material science innovations. Dr. Kuray shares her insights on the evolving landscape of printed circuit boards and the groundbreaking material science developments shaping the future of electronics.
From discussing AGC's pioneering work in low-loss copper-clad laminates and RF materials to exploring the potential of glass in chip packaging, this episode offers a glimpse of where the industry is headed.
Check out this episode for discussions on the synergy between PCB design and material science, the impact of legislative measures like the CHIPS Act on the industry, and the future projects AGC is spearheading to drive technological advancements.
Zach Peterson: You know, in iConnect, I've seen that you spoke with one of our prior guests, Blake Moore. Obviously, you have been active in speaking with some industry advocates. You know, I've done that myself and I try to keep our viewers apprised of what's going on in this area. So maybe if you could speak on some of those points, that would be great.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yes, most definitely. So I'll speak more to the PCB industry, but as you know, a trending hashtag that propagated across the internet and the PCB community a few years ago was the hashtag #chipsdontfloat, right? And essentially, that means that we can't just invest money into the semiconductor chips, but we have to invest money into the entire ecosystem. And that means, that includes the packaging and the PCB itself.
Zach Peterson: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Altium "OnTrack Podcast." I'm your host, Zach Peterson. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Preeya Kuray, Material Scientist with AGC Multi Materials. This is a company I have not had a chance to learn about just yet. And so I'm very excited to talk to Preeya today. Preeya, thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yes, thank you for having me. I'm excited to chat to you a little bit about the company and what we do.
Zach Peterson: Yeah, absolutely. I first became aware of you through iConnect.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yes.
Zach Peterson: And so I occasionally like to have folks from iConnect come on here and talk about themselves and what they do. So maybe if you could just give us an overview of how you got started in the electronics industry and how did you come to work in the materials area?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Definitely. So it happened kind of accidentally. When I was an undergraduate, I was at Rutgers University and I was figuring out what I wanted to study. So one day, I found myself at an engineering research fair, and I was going through all of the different sections and I saw research projects from the electrical engineering department and the mechanical engineering department. And I stumbled into the Material Science and Engineering Department. And as a young college freshman, I was so enamored and enchanted with all of the different things you can do as a material scientist. And today, a lot of people don't know exactly what material science is. It's essentially looking at how the chemical structure of a material or how the atoms are oriented in space, how does that impact properties like dielectric constant and dissipation factor? How can we smartly combine two or three or four different materials to get a resin flow that we want or a copper peel strength that we want? And so, you know, material sciences is looking at the chemical structure of a material and making very smart decisions on how to combine different materials to make a tangible product. And I thought that there was so much creativity and innovation in that. So in 2020, I finished my PhD in material science engineering from Penn State. And for the last three years, I have been working at AGC Multi Material as a material scientist. And I get to do formulation work and help push forward product development on our products such as buildup films for chip packaging and HDI applications.
Zach Peterson: You know, I worked on materials a bit myself when I was working on my PhD research, and it was something I never thought I would get into until I started doing it. I was working with optics, but I became enamored with it as well, especially once I started looking into the literature. So I can relate to that.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah, and it's so as you know, right, it's so interdisciplinary, once you have that knowledge base, you can apply it to projects in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, so yeah.
Zach Peterson: I agree, I think at some point, when you're doing research on certain classes of materials, you start having light bulbs go off in your head around certain envisioned applications, even if they are kind of crazy and out there, you just start having those eureka moments.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah, definitely.
Zach Peterson: Yeah, those are always fun. So if you could tell us more about AGC Multi Material.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yes, so AGC stands for Asahi Glass Company. And it was founded in 1907 as Japan's first glass manufacturer, which I thought was super interesting. And so over the past 110 years of its history as a company, it has evolved to have divisions in glass, electronics, chemicals, ceramics. And today, many of the materials and chemical businesses within AGC fall under top global shares. And so my company, AGC Multi Material falls under AGC Electronics Company. And the birth of Multi Material happened in 2018 and 2019 with the acquisition of Nelco and Taconic. And so, as you know, Nelco has historically pushed forward innovation on creating low loss copper clad laminates, whereas Taconic has done a lot of great work with RF materials and creating buildup films for HDI, ultra HDI, military. And so the acquisition of these two companies, and therefore the birth of AGC Multi Material, it came from a place of wanting to bring together two champions in the PCB industry with the goal of co-designing materials for PCB substrates and chip packaging together.
Zach Peterson: You know, you brought up two classes of materials here. One of them was low loss copper clad laminates, the other was RF materials.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah.
Zach Peterson: And I think when most people think about those materials, they're probably not thinking AGC Multi Material.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah.
Zach Peterson: Are you guys trying to grow through acquisition and really compete with someone like a Rogers?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Oh, most definitely, most definitely. And I think brand awareness is a huge part of that, you know, just making, because AGC in Japan, it is one of the largest companies in Japan. Everybody knows AGC, the light bulbs go off. So we're definitely trying to get that level of recognition here in the states because it is such a huge global company.
Zach Peterson: Sure, sure. Maybe you could tell us a bit more what types of materials does AGC produce?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yes, for sure. So, like I mentioned, AGC acquired Taconic in 2019, and the acquisition of Taconic has really set AGC Multi Material up for success with developing buildup films for HDI and Ultra HDI, as well as investigating these buildup films for chip packaging applications. So one of our flagship products in which all of our buildup film development is centered around is a product called the fastRise TC. And the fastRise TC is a non-reinforced polymer composite buildup film. Non-reinforced, meaning that it's not reinforced with traditional glass cross. It's simply reinforced with filler material. And what is especially interesting about the fastRise TC is that it has excellent thermal reliability. And so just to put it into context a little bit, 24 test coupons were made with the fastRise TC and they went through 200 thermal cycles from room temperature to 260 degrees C without a single failure. And what's so interesting about that from a material science perspective, if you think about it, is because the fastRise TC was designed very smartly to match the CTE of copper. So CTE, of course is the coefficient of thermal expansion, it's the amount that a material physically expands and contracts under the application of heat. Copper has a CTE of 18 parts per million over degree C. fastRise TC matches that. And because you have these two materials in your stackup, expanding and contracting at the same rate, it leads to a material with incredible thermal reliability suitable for military and ultra HDI applications. And so as a material scientist at AGC, some of the work that I've done is help push forward the innovation on making a low DK version of our fastRise product. And so low DK is important as you know, because for a given trace width, if you have a lower DK material, you can reduce the thickness. And this is so paramount for applications, you know, that need miniaturization like HDI and Ultra HDI. And so for this low DK project, we were able to achieve a buildup film with a dielectric constant of 2.1 to 2.2 by using a special filler material. The formulation work for this product is still ongoing and we're working to optimize other material properties for this project and product.
Zach Peterson: So how do some of the AGC Multi Material products compare to other materials in this space?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah, that's a great question. So like I mentioned in the beginning, you know, Taconic's history has been basically pushing forward the product development on RF materials and low loss buildup films. And when we acquired Nelco, you know, their history was innovating low loss copper clad laminates. AGC is a huge chemicals and and materials company. And so Multi Material benefits from having the know-how of these two icons in the PCB industry with the sheer raw material and chemical technologies that AGC Group, the parent company has. And so right now, we're strongly collaborating with AGC Research Center in Japan where about 1500 people are doing R&D research on advanced materials within this world-class characterization lab. And so, you know, to answer your question, I think what differentiates us from our competitors is the synergy between bringing together these two icons in the PCB industry with the raw material and chemical capability that AGC Group as a whole has, as well as co-designing PCB and chip packaging materials for both spaces.
Zach Peterson: When you say co-designing, to me, that says you're really designing one material set that could be used in either application if needed.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Zach Peterson: Okay, so with that in mind, it sounds like you're trying to take advantage of the projected growth in the chip packaging HDI or UHDI and then, you know, chip substrates market.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah, exactly.
Zach Peterson: Okay. So I think because so many designers out there, especially you know, PCB designers who may have a lot of experience with different kinds of materials, they start to hear packaging and I think for some of them, they haven't worked in the semiconductor industry, they're really not familiar with the materials and how similar or different they may be compared to PCB materials. So could you give us an overview of packaging materials and, for example, what is the current standard for packaging technology and where's it heading?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Right, right, for sure. So chip packaging refers to the organic dielectric layer that routes the semiconductor chip to the printed circuit board. And so chip packaging materials, typically they consist of an organic layer, an organic core that's sandwiched between subsequent layers of buildup film. So because cores are usually organic materials, they can suffer from high warpage and they can suffer from high warpage and low modulus from their polymeric components. And so one material that has been identified as a next generation alternative to the organic core is glass. So glass has a high modulus and a low CTE compared to polymer materials. And because of that, those characteristics are ideal for preventing warpage of the chip package. So this is not something I'm working on, but AGC headquarters in Japan is actively working on developing a glass to be suitable to be used as a core in chip packaging applications. And at AGC Multi Material, right now we are investigating the use of our buildup film technology to be applied to, you know, chip packaging buildup films, as well as understanding how the mechanism between the buildup film adheres to something like a glass core.
Zach Peterson: Maybe if you could just tell us a little bit more about the warpage problem. So you brought up warpage. Does this just place excess stress on the dye whenever warpage happens? And then what are some of the main causes of warpage of these materials in a package?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah, so warpage does cause excess strain on the dye and it prevents going into higher gigabytes per second technology because you want it to be as reliable and flat as possible, right? And it comes back down to CTE. Glass inherently has a lower CTE than organic polymeric materials do. And so you can, there are certain products on the market right now where you can achieve a low CTE and therefore likely low warpage with polymers, but as a whole by and large, because glass has a, how to say, a higher modulus and a lower CTE, that's why it's been identified as kind of a next generation material to prevent this issue in chip packaging.
Zach Peterson: So I have to ask, what is special about the glass that you wanna create? I mean, I think most people may not realize that glasses are a very broad class of materials beyond just, you know, the windows that you look through to see outside.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah.
Zach Peterson: So what's special about the glass that you wanna use in packaging?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Special about the glass that we wanna use in the packaging is that it's gonna come from AGC and AGC is glass company in the world.
Zach Peterson: I understand. Can't reveal the secret sauce, so that's fair.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah, yeah. Wish I could. The material scientist in me wants to divulge all the science.
Zach Peterson: No, that's fair, that's fair. So maybe let's move on just briefly. So how has the growth in the packaging materials demand changed since the passage of the CHIPS Act? One reason I ask is because, you know, in iConnect, I've seen that you spoke with one of our prior guests, Blake Moore, obviously you have been active in speaking with some industry advocates. You know, I've done that myself and I try to keep our viewers apprised of what's going on in this area. So maybe if you could speak on some of those points, that would be great.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yes, most definitely. So I'll speak more to the PCB industry, but as you know, a trending hashtag that propagated across the internet and the PCB community a few years ago was the hashtag #chipsdontfloat, right? And essentially that means that we can't just invest money into the semiconductor chips, but we have to invest money into the entire ecosystem. And that means, that includes the packaging and the PCB itself, right? And so, like you mentioned, last year, I got the chance to speak to Congressman Blake Moore. He, alongside Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, they introduced the Protecting Printed Circuit Boards Act to US Congress in May of 2023. And this act, if passed, it would provide a 25% tax credit for the purchase or acquisition of American-made PCBs. It would also establish a financial assistance program modeled after CHIPS that would give funding for the building of manufacturing and research and development for PCB facilities. And it would give $3 billion to carry out this program if passed. And so I think because of the advent and the passing of the CHIPS Act, there's a lot more awareness for other parts of the ecosystem that have been kind of neglected within the past couple of years. So, you know, the industry has done a great job propagating for PCB, Congress realizes the importance of supporting PCBs. And I think that they know it's not just a matter of investing in the latest technology, but it's also a matter of investing in our national security and economy.
Zach Peterson: So in terms of the financial assistance program that's modeled after the CHIPS Act.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah.
Zach Peterson: I think the perception is that this only goes for manufacturing facilities. Is that correct? Or does it go towards really anything else that might positively impact the supply chain?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: PCBs, yeah, I think it is primarily for manufacturing, but if I'm not mistaken, it also includes investing in the research and development of PCBs, kind of just holistically we would put in resources to make sure that our PCB supply chain is resilient and robust.
Zach Peterson: So another, I guess, related question to this, because the whole go goal of all of this is, I guess really to shift the geographic distribution of the supply chain so that it's a little more evenly distributed and thereby make us less susceptible to geopolitical problems, natural disasters, the list goes on and on.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Right.
Zach Peterson: So have you or has AGC Taconic seen any of the demands start to shift geographically? Are you seeing more demand outside of Taiwan and China and maybe more demand in let's say Europe and the US?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: I think so because Phoenix, Arizona, where ACG Multi Material, you know, is located, is becoming the, it's colloquially called the Silicon Desert, you know? So many companies are coming to Phoenix, Arizona. So I really do think that this is becoming the next manufacturing and research and development hotspot, not only for PCB, but for chip packaging and chips itself.
Zach Peterson: Yeah, it's really interesting to see all of this kind of take place. And I have to be honest, I was a little skeptical at the level of support that people were going to put forward towards trying to reshore some of PCB production. But, you know, initially it's looking promising. I mean, you have American Standard Circuits who came out talking about their UHDI and Calumet is involved. In fact, Meredith LaBeau is working, I think, on the NIST panel for implementation of some of these funds. So I gotta say, I'm impressed at the number of people who have really taken this seriously.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah, I would agree with that. And, you know, a couple weeks ago, I was in Washington DC and it's very encouraging to see there are so many moving parts from so many different federal departments working towards this one goal of, you know, bolstering our supply chain in semiconductor in America, from Department of Energy, to Department of Defense, to Department of Commerce. So it's very hopeful, I think.
Zach Peterson: So given that you've spent more time in Washington DC dealing with this kind of stuff than I have, I haven't done it at all. I've been invited by the PCBAA guys, but I haven't been yet, so I would love to go this year. David Shield, if you're listening, email me. But I've always wondered, you know, what do you folks on the hill, how do they react when someone comes up and talks to them about this? What's their perception about PCBs and the supply chain that's associated with them? When you start talking about, you know, things like applying the CHIPS Act model to supporting the onshoring or nearshoring of PCB production? Do they even realize that PCBs are an important thing?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Definitely.
Zach Peterson: Or do you have to like really break it down for them?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: No, not at all, they know how important it is. So when I spoke to Blake Moore last year during our I007 interview, it was so apparent that like he said, Congress is a funny place, right? And there are so many issues circulating, not just in technology sector, but in the health sector and the infrastructure sector. But everybody knows the importance of PCB, they know that this is an issue. And I think something that is extremely compelling and compelling is the fact that the Protecting Printed Circuit Boards Act, it's bipartisan legislature, right? And so you kind of see across the board, it's gotten support, it hasn't passed yet, but, you know, they're doing their best. And it's clear to me being in DC and speaking to various people that they know that this is an important issue. You know, and that's what makes it quite hopeful, I think, as a scientist seeing that these very real issues that you and I deal with on a lab level are, you know, being taken very seriously.
Zach Peterson: I'm encouraged too. I'm just hoping that the level of growth expands beyond just defense because for so long, you know, the only support has really come from NDAAs, right? And it's really meant to support, you know, military PCB production, which, you know, that's part of the supply chain and it's important 'cause it helps keep a lot of the mom and pop shops afloat and all of that. But most PCBs are not, you know, defense, they're consumer products and all of that.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah.
Zach Peterson: You know, so much of it happens in Taiwan, Vietnam, China, you know, it's expanding out. I think people are taking, you know, a China plus one strategy pretty seriously, but still, most of that production is not North America, and it's not Latin America.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: Yeah, yeah. No, that's a great point too. I think the PCBAA is doing excellent work lobbying for these efforts and, you know, I would say that corresponding with them and presenting these thoughts to the decision makers is the best way forward.
Zach Peterson: Yeah, I would agree with you. So, getting off of politics for just a moment. So what are some of the plans that AGC has in the future for future products? I know you mentioned glass for chip packaging. We kind of talked briefly about low dk. I know you wouldn't admit to it, but I'm hoping there's a sub two DK material coming out. What else is AGC planning as far as in the material space to support the industry?
Dr. Preeya Kuray: I think what I can mention and what I can talk about, given my background in the formulation development is certainly expanding on our buildup film business, and like you said, developing these buildup films with different dks, whether they're low 2.1 to 2.2 dks or to a higher space. And our AGC headquarters in Japan is certainly doing great work with investigating the use of glass as a core material. So I don't know if I can divulge more beyond that, but I can guarantee it'll be very compelling and good science.
Zach Peterson: I'm sure it will be. You know, as some of this stuff comes out and as all these things we talked about continue to develop, we'd love to have you come back on and talk about some of this stuff.
Dr. Preeya Kuray: I'd love to, I'd love to. Thank you so much for having me.
Zach Peterson: Absolutely, thank you so much for being here. To everyone that's listening, we've been talking with Preeya Kuray, Material Scientist with AGC Multi Materials, I should say, Dr. Preeya Kuray. I apologize earlier. If you are watching on YouTube, make sure to hit the subscribe button, hit the like button, leave us a comment. You'll be able to keep up with all of our tutorials and podcast episodes as they come out. And last but not least, don't stop learning, stay on track, and we'll see you next time. Thanks, everybody.