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Carnegie Mellon and Intel Join on Computer Chip Heating Project

Carnegie Mellon University is working with Intel to develop a new class of materials that could help streamline the process of computer electronic packaging and reduce energy expenditure. Currently, the creation of computer chips during the electronic packaging process involves use of hot air convection or infrared ovens. Because heating the chips in these ovens requires significant energy costs and also poses the risk of chip warping, a team of researchers at the university is collaborating with Intel researchers to develop a tool that uses radio frequency coils for the heating process.

The research team at Carnegie Mellon is led by Michael McHenry, a professor of materials science and engineering, biomedical engineering, and physics. In collaboration with Intel's Raja Swaminathan, a senior packaging materials engineer, the scientists have devised a radio frequency heating technique for solder magnetic nanoparticle (MNP) composites that can sufficiently heat solders to cause reflow without placing computer chips in conventional ovens.

"By varying the concentration and composition of these magnetic particles we can control the time it takes to heat them, which ultimately helps improve the speed of processing them, and potentially lowers the cost," said McHenry.

The team's findings will be shared at an upcoming Magnetism and Magnetics Materials Conference in Washington, DC.

"It is always gratifying to see an idea actually demonstrated in reality," Swaminathan said. "This first successful demonstration could open up possibilities of other applications even outside microelectronic packaging. Though we have a long way to go in implementing a locally melting solder in actual applications, the concept of local heating opens up many processing opportunities that we are working to further explore with McHenry. There is significant opportunity here for good basic science and technology exploration."

In addition to speeding up the solder process, McHenry's team also improved the electrical interconnects during the electronic packaging process. Because chip warping is more of a problem at the temperature required to make lead-free solders reflow, the researchers said, this technology will have additional benefits.

"There are many possibilities for this process throughout a variety of industry sectors, including the semiconductor sector, aerospace, and data storage industry," McHenry said.

Research funding for this project comes from a several sources, including Intel and the National Science Foundation.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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