IBM, 3M to Create Heat-Dissipating Adhesives for Chip Stacking

Big Blue and innovator 3M are joining together to develop an adhesive that will take 3D chip stacking to new heights, both literally and figuratively.

For well over a decade, IBM has been researching and developing chip stacking, which is the next generation of microprocessor technology that follows Moore’s Law. Faced with ever-shrinking dies, researchers had a problem, and they had nowhere to go but up. They realized that instead of trying to cram more into a single wafer of silicone, they could stack the sheets on top of on another to fit many times more chip components into the same die footprint.

What you end up with is, as IBM describes it, a brick of silicone or (my preferred description) a silicone skyscraper. These stacks could be comprised of up to 100 wafer slices and are theoretically capable of running 1,000 times faster than today’s processors.

The problem is one of those obvious, seemingly simple challenges--heat becomes a problem when you stack silicone chips on top of one another--that nevertheless needs an innovative solution. IBM’s R&D people have opted to step outside the lab doors and ask the adhesive experts at 3M to help them develop a material (or materials) that will enable efficient heat conduction and dissipation in a stack while also holding the sheets together.

One of the goals of this venture is the ability to glue entire wafers on top of one another; presently, it’s commonplace to utilize bonding techniques for individual chips. The new adhesives could ostensibly cover hundreds or thousands of chips in a layer, all in one go.

Today’s announcement that the company will work with 3M to develop adhesives to alleviate the thermal problems inherent in chip stacking marks another step closer to the realization of a commercial product.

Bernard Meyerson, VP of Research at IBM, said in the press release, “Our scientists are aiming to develop materials that will allow us to package tremendous amounts of computing power into a new form factor – a silicon ‘skyscraper.’ We believe we can advance the state-of-art in packaging, and create a new class of semiconductors that offer more speed and capabilities while they keep power usage low -- key requirements for many manufacturers, especially for makers of tablets and smartphones.”

For all the promise this partnership offers, the announcement makes no statements as to the progress of the project, nor any timetable, so don’t expect a product built with the new adhesive on the market anytime soon.