Thick-film technology

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Thick-film technology is used to produce electronic devices such as surface mount devices, hybrid integrated circuits and sensors.

Hybrid integrated circuit

A hybrid integrated circuit (HIC), hybrid microcircuit, hybrid circuit or simply hybrid is a miniaturized electronic circuit constructed of individual devices, such as semiconductor devices and passive components, bonded to a substrate or printed circuit board (PCB). A PCB having components on a Printed Wiring Board (PWB) is not considered a hybrid circuit according to the definition of MIL-PRF-38534.

Sensor converter that measures a physical quantity and converts it into a signal

In the broadest definition, a sensor is a device, module, or subsystem whose purpose is to detect events or changes in its environment and send the information to other electronics, frequently a computer processor. A sensor is always used with other electronics.

Thick-film circuits are widely used in the automotive industry, both in sensors, e.g. mixture of fuel/air, pressure sensors, engine and gearbox controls, sensor for releasing airbags, ignitors to airbags; common is that high reliability is required, often extended temperature range also along massive thermocycling of circuits without failure.

The manufacture of such devices is an additive process involving deposition of several successive layers of conductor, resistors and dielectric layers onto an electrically insulating substrate using a screen-printing process. A typical thick-film process would consist of the following stages:


Lasering of substrates

Most used substrates are made of 96% alumina Al2O3. Alumina is very hard and not very machinable, therefore lasering of the material is the most efficient way to machine it. The thick-film process is also a process of miniaturization where one substrates normally contain many units (final circuits), with the lasering it is possible to scribe, profile and drill holes. Scribing is a lasering process where a line of laser pulses are fire into the material and 30–50% of the material is removed, this weakens the substrate, after all other process are done to build the thick film circuit the substrates can easily be divided into single units. Profiling are for example used lot in the sensor, where a circuit need to fit round tubes or other different complex shapes. Drilling of holes, provide via between the two sides of the substrate, normally hole sizes are in the range 0.15–0.2 mm.

Lasering before processing the substrates has a cost advantage to lasering or dicing using diamond saw after processing.

Ink preparation

Inks for electrodes, terminals, resistors, dielectric layers etc. are commonly prepared by mixing the metal or ceramic powders required with an organic vehicle to produce a paste for screen-printing. To achieve a homogeneous ink the mixed components of the ink may be passed through a three-roll mill. Alternatively, ready made inks may be obtained from one of the many companies offering products for the thick-film technologist.

Organic compound Chemical compound that contains carbon (except for a several compounds traditionally classified as inorganic compounds)

In chemistry, an organic compound is generally any chemical compound that contains carbon. Due to carbon's ability to catenate, millions of organic compounds are known. Study of the properties and synthesis of organic compounds is the discipline known as organic chemistry. For historical reasons, a few classes of carbon-containing compounds, along with a handful of other exceptions, are not classified as organic compounds and are considered inorganic. No consensus exists among chemists on precisely which carbon-containing compounds are excluded, making the definition of an organic compound elusive. Although organic compounds make up only a small percentage of the Earth's crust, they are of central importance because all known life is based on organic compounds. Most synthetically produced organic compounds are ultimately derived from petrochemicals consisting mainly of hydrocarbons.


Screen-printing is the process of transferring an ink through a patterned woven mesh screen or stencil using a squeegee.


After allowing time after printing for settling of the ink, each layer of ink that is deposited is usually dried at a moderately high temperature (50 to 200 °C) to evaporate the liquid component of the ink and fix the layer temporarily in position on the substrate so that it can be handled or stored before final processing. For inks based on polymers and some solder pastes that cure at these temperatures this may be the final step that is required. Some inks also require curing by exposure to UV light.

Curing (chemistry) hardening of a polymer material by cross-linking of polymer chains

Curing is a chemical process employed in polymer chemistry and process engineering that produces the toughening or hardening of a polymer material by cross-linking of polymer chains. It is strongly associated with the production of thermosetting polymers. Curing can be effected by heat, radiation, electron beams, or chemical additives. Characteristically curing entails an increase in viscosity or hardness.

Ultraviolet Electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays

Ultraviolet (UV) designates a band of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelength from 10 nm to 400 nm, shorter than that of visible light but longer than X-rays. UV radiation is present in sunlight, and contributes about 10% of the total light output of the Sun. It is also produced by electric arcs and specialized lights, such as mercury-vapor lamps, tanning lamps, and black lights. Although long-wavelength ultraviolet is not considered an ionizing radiation because its photons lack the energy to ionize atoms, it can cause chemical reactions and causes many substances to glow or fluoresce. Consequently, the chemical and biological effects of UV are greater than simple heating effects, and many practical applications of UV radiation derive from its interactions with organic molecules.


For many of the metal, ceramic and glass inks used in thick film processes a high temperature (usually greater than 300 °C) firing is required to fix the layers in position permanently on the substrate.

Laser trimming of resistors

After firing, the substrate resistors are trimmed to the correct value. This process is named laser trimming. Many chip resistors are made using thick-film technology. Large substrates are printed with resistors fired, divided into small chips and these are then terminated, so they can be soldered on the PCB board. With laser trimming two modes are used; either passive trimming, where each resistor is trimmed to a specific value and tolerance, or active trimming, where the feedback is used to adjust to a specific voltage, frequency or response by laser trimming the resistors on the circuit while powered up.

Mounting of capacitors semiconductors

The development of the SMD process actually evolves from the thick film process. Also mounting of naked dies (the actual silicon chip without encapsulation) and wire bonding is a standard process, this provides the basis for minituarization of the circuits as all the extra encapsulation is not necessary.

Separation of elements

This step is often necessary because many components are produced on one substrate at the same time. Thus, some means of separating the components from each other is required. This step may be achieved by wafer dicing.

Integration of devices

At this stage the devices may require integrating with other electronic components, usually in the form of a printed circuit board. This may be achieved by wire bonding or soldering.

See also

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Integrated circuit electronic circuit manufactured by lithography; set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece (or "chip") of semiconductor material, normally silicon

An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, cheaper, and faster than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.

Screen printing printing technique

Screen printing is a printing technique whereby a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. A blade or squeegee is moved across the screen to fill the open mesh apertures with ink, and a reverse stroke then causes the screen to touch the substrate momentarily along a line of contact. This causes the ink to wet the substrate and be pulled out of the mesh apertures as the screen springs back after the blade has passed. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicoloured image or design.

Printed circuit board board to support and connect electronic components

A printed circuit board (PCB) mechanically supports and electrically connects electronic components or electrical components using conductive tracks, pads and other features etched from one or more sheet layers of copper laminated onto and/or between sheet layers of a non-conductive substrate. Components are generally soldered onto the PCB to both electrically connect and mechanically fasten them to it.

Microtechnology is technology with features near one micrometre.

Surface-mount technology method for producing electronic circuits

Surface-mount technology (SMT) is a method for producing electronic circuits in which the components are mounted or placed directly onto the surface of printed circuit boards (PCBs). An electronic device so made is called a surface-mount device (SMD). In industry, it has largely replaced the through-hole technology construction method of fitting components with wire leads into holes in the circuit board. Both technologies can be used on the same board, with the through-hole technology used for components not suitable for surface mounting such as large transformers and heat-sinked power semiconductors.

Flexible electronics

Flexible electronics, also known as flex circuits, is a technology for assembling electronic circuits by mounting electronic devices on flexible plastic substrates, such as polyimide, PEEK or transparent conductive polyester film. Additionally, flex circuits can be screen printed silver circuits on polyester. Flexible electronic assemblies may be manufactured using identical components used for rigid printed circuit boards, allowing the board to conform to a desired shape, or to flex during its use. An alternative approach to flexible electronics suggests various etching techniques to thin down the traditional silicon substrate to few tens of micrometers to gain reasonable flexibility, referred to as flexible silicon.

An antifuse is an electrical device that performs the opposite function to a fuse. Whereas a fuse starts with a low resistance and is designed to permanently break an electrically conductive path, an antifuse starts with a high resistance and is designed to permanently create an electrically conductive path. This technology has many applications.

Laser trimming

Laser trimming is the manufacturing process of using a laser to adjust the operating parameters of an electronic circuit.

The role of the substrate in power electronics is to provide the interconnections to form an electric circuit, and to cool the components. Compared to materials and techniques used in lower power microelectronics, these substrates must carry higher currents and provide a higher voltage isolation. They also must operate over a wide temperature range.


Perfboard is a material for prototyping electronic circuits. It is a thin, rigid sheet with holes pre-drilled at standard intervals across a grid, usually a square grid of 0.1 inches (2.54 mm) spacing. These holes are ringed by round or square copper pads, though bare boards are also available. Inexpensive perfboard may have pads on only one side of the board, while better quality perfboard can have pads on both sides. Since each pad is electrically isolated, the builder makes all connections with either wire wrap or miniature point to point wiring techniques. Discrete components are soldered to the prototype board such as resistors, capacitors, and integrated circuits. The substrate is typically made of paper laminated with phenolic resin or a fiberglass-reinforced epoxy laminate (FR-4).

Printed electronics

Printed electronics is a set of printing methods used to create electrical devices on various substrates. Printing typically uses common printing equipment suitable for defining patterns on material, such as screen printing, flexography, gravure, offset lithography, and inkjet. By electronic industry standards, these are low cost processes. Electrically functional electronic or optical inks are deposited on the substrate, creating active or passive devices, such as thin film transistors; capacitors; coils; resistors. Printed electronics is expected to facilitate widespread, very low-cost, low-performance electronics for applications such as flexible displays, smart labels, decorative and animated posters, and active clothing that do not require high performance.

Thermal copper pillar bump

The thermal copper pillar bump, also known as the "thermal bump", is a thermoelectric device made from thin-film thermoelectric material embedded in flip chip interconnects for use in electronics and optoelectronic packaging, including: flip chip packaging of CPU and GPU integrated circuits (chips), laser diodes, and semiconductor optical amplifiers (SOA). Unlike conventional solder bumps that provide an electrical path and a mechanical connection to the package, thermal bumps act as solid-state heat pumps and add thermal management functionality locally on the surface of a chip or to another electrical component. The diameter of a thermal bump is 238 μm and 60 μm high.

The Occam process is a solder-free, Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS)-compliant method for use in the manufacturing of electronic circuit boards developed by Verdant Electronics. It combines the usual two steps of the construction of printed circuit boards (PCBs) followed by the population process of placing various leaded and non-leaded electronic components into one process.

Failure of electronic components Ways electronic elements fail and prevention measures

Electronic components have a wide range of failure modes. These can be classified in various ways, such as by time or cause. Failures can be caused by excess temperature, excess current or voltage, ionizing radiation, mechanical shock, stress or impact, and many other causes. In semiconductor devices, problems in the device package may cause failures due to contamination, mechanical stress of the device, or open or short circuits.

Glass frit bonding, also referred to as glass soldering or seal glass bonding, describes a wafer bonding technique with an intermediate glass layer. It is a widely used encapsulation technology for surface micro-machined structures, e.g., accelerometers or gyroscopes. This technique utilizes low melting glass and therefore provides various advantages including that viscosity of glass decreases with an increase of temperature. The viscous flow of glass has effects to compensate and planarize surface irregularities, convenient for bonding wafers with a high roughness due to plasma etching or deposition. A low viscosity promotes hermetically sealed encapsulation of structures based on a better adaption of the structured shapes. Further, the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of the glass material is adapted to silicon. This results in low stress in the bonded wafer pair.

Reactive bonding describes a wafer bonding procedure using highly reactive nanoscale multilayer systems as an intermediate layer between the bonding substrates. The multilayer system consists of two alternating different thin metallic films. The self-propagating exothermic reaction within the multilayer system contributes the local heat to bond the solder films. Based on the limited temperature the substrate material is exposed, temperature-sensitive components and materials with different CTEs, i.e. metals, polymers and ceramics, can be used without thermal damage.

Photoimageable thick-film technology

Photoimageable thick-film technology is a combination of conventional thick film technology with elements of thin film technology, and it provides a low cost solution to producing high quality microwave circuits. The ability to directly photoimage the printed layers means that the technology can provide the high line and gap resolution required by high frequency planar components. It provides a feasible fabrication process to produce circuits operating at microwave and millimetre-wave frequencies. Circuits made using this technology meet the modern requirements for high density packaging, whilst yielding the high quality components required for very high frequency applications, including wireless communication, radar and measurement systems.

Co-fired ceramic

Co-fired ceramic devices are monolithic, ceramic microelectronic devices where the entire ceramic support structure and any conductive, resistive, and dielectric materials are fired in a kiln at the same time. Typical devices include capacitors, inductors, resistors, transformers, and hybrid circuits. The technology is also used for robust assembly and packaging of electronic components multi-layer packaging in the electronics industry, such as military electronics, MEMS, microprocessor and RF applications.