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ISTFA 2008: Proceedings from the 34th International Symposium for Copyright 2008 ASM International

Testing and Failure Analysis All rights reserved.

November 2-6, 2008, Portland, Oregon USA DOI: 10.1361/cp2008istfa108

An Analytical Technique to Assess the Risk of Laser Damage to Encapsulated

Integrated Circuits During Package Laser Marking
Joseph Patterson
Applied MicroCircuits Corporation
San Diego, California, USA
jpatters, Phone: 858 535 3290

Cliff Schuring
Quantum Focus Instruments
Vista, California, USA, Phone:760 599 1122

Abstract packaging materials so that the marking laser can not reach
the die surface, such as removing the glass spheres. However,
Damage to encapsulated integrated circuits has recently been any change to the existing packaging methodology would
reported due to Laser marking of the package. A method to have a significant impact on the technology. New material
assess the risk of such damage is presented. The method is an and process development as well as requalification of any
analytical technique using Thermally Induced Voltage changes represent a major effort.
Alteration (XIVA) and Optical Beam Induced Current (OBIC)
imaging. Details of the Damage Mechanism

Introduction The conditions during Laser marking resulting in the laser

energy reaching the die surface are depicted in Figure 1. The
Laser ablation of the epoxy mold compound for encapsulation significant feature is the alignment of a few large glass
integrated circuits is one of the predominate methods to mark spheres vertically from the outside of the package to the die
devices with their identifying labels. Damage to Integrated surface.
Circuits encapsulated in Epoxy mold compound induced
during Laser package marking was reported at ISTFA in
2007.[1]. It was shown that the spherical glass filler particles
in the epoxy can line up vertically providing an optical path
for the laser energy to reach the die surface. The risk of this
occurrence has increased as packages have become thinner,
and will continue to increase as packages shrink further.

A means to study the susceptibility of any given specific

package to this mechanism has been developed and is
presented herein. The damage reported in the Intel paper was
due to melted metal lines that resulted in shorts. However,
other types of degradation to integrated circuit structures have
been observed due to laser energy [2]. Low K dielectric can
delaminate and dopant diffusions can even be altered. Thus
the issue of an initial yield loss due to shorts is not the only
concern. The reliability of circuits exposed to laser energy Figure 1: Diagram of a cross section through a plastic
that can cause degradation other than shorts has to be encapsulated integrated circuit showing the optical path of the
considered. To do that, the likelihood and severity of the laser marking laser to the die surface.
event has to be assessed quantitatively. Alternatively, the
package structure and the conditions during Laser marking The set up used during XIVA or OBIC characterization of the
must be shown to be such that the likelihood of damage is optical paths through the epoxy mold compound to the die
virtually zero. OBIC and XIVA analysis can be performed at surface is depicted in Figure 2.
laser energy well below the threshold of damage or
degradation yet still have the sensitivity to detect package
integrity. An alternate approach could be to reformulate the
Figure 2: Diagram of the set up used to detect the optical
paths through the epoxy mold compound to the die. It is the
same as the laser marking configuration except that the
detection amplifier is connected to the device leads and a
much low power laser is utilized.

A XIVA image of the top of the package of an encapsulated

Figure 3: XIVA image of the circuit response (red and green
integrated circuit is shown in Figure 3. The device VCC and
regions) to the laser energy that reached the die surface
ground pins were connected to the XIVA amplifier inputs.
through optical paths in the epoxy mold compound as the
The red and green sites indicate the location of the optical
laser is scanned across the outside of the package above the
paths where the laser beam propagated through the glass
die. The white spots are the glass sphere and the dark areas
spheres in the mold compound and reached the die circuitry.
are the epoxy in the overlain reflected light image. (5X
The top of the package was polished to remove a thickness
objective lens).
equal to the depth of ablation of the normal marking laser.
The laser wavelength for the XIVA image was 1340
nanometers. Thus the red and green sites indicate locations
where the circuitry would change resistance due to heating of
the laser energy.

Imaging similar to that in figure 3 was performed on the same

device using a laser wavelength of 1064 nanometers. The
OBIC technique was performed with the VCC and ground
pins of the device connected to the OBIC amplifier inputs.
The laser was scanned across the outside of the package over
the area of the encapsulated die. The current detector and
amplifier were the same as what was used as for the XIVA
image. The OBIC image is shown in figure 4. The red and
green spots indicate locations where the laser reached sites on
the die that would generate electron-hole pairs in the silicon
near junctions. Again, the laser revealed optical paths through
the glass spheres in the mold compound.

The locations of the XIVA sites on a given device are

different than the locations of the OBIC sites on the same
device because the integrated circuit elements have different
sensitivities to the two different stimuli. The XIVA laser can
heat sites where it strikes metal. However, that same site will Figure 4: OBIC image of the circuit response (green regions)
block the OBIC laser from reaching the silicon and it therefore to the laser energy that reached the die surface through
cannot generate electronhole pairs. Figure 5 shows a XIVA optical paths in the epoxy mold compound as the laser is
image of the same device as in figures 3 and 4 after the mold scanned across the outside of the package above the die. The
compound was completely removed above the die. It white spots are the glass spheres and the dark areas are the
indicates all the possible XIVA response locations. epoxy in the overlain reflected light image. (5X objective

Figure 6: Light transmission image of the layer of mold
compound over the die observed in a microscope in the back
lighted mode. The bottom of the package and die were
removed by parallel polishing. The bright band at the bottom
is a region where larger glass spheres collected due to the
filtering action of the closely spaced bond wires. (10 X
Figure 5: XIVA image of the same sample as in figures 3 and magnification.)
4 after all of the mold compound above the die was removed.
This indicates all possible XIVA sites. (5X objective lens.) This examination method can be an alternate to the OBIC and
XIVA methods, but it requires more sample preparation time
It was initially assumed that the locations of the optical paths and is destructive. However, because it does not require a
through the mold compound would be randomly distributed. laser scanning microscope it can be useful for a laboratory that
And that the probability of the vertical alignment of several is equipped with standard metallurgical equipment.
large glass spheres would be determined by random statistics.
The distribution of particle sizes was examined over the area Discussion
of the die in the X-Y plane and at several vertical planes The conditions can sometimes exist where a thin layer of
above the die surface. This revealed a non random epoxy is present between the glass spheres that will obscure
distribution. Then a sample of the total thickness of mold the OBIC laser. Even the XIVA laser power may be
compound covering the die was prepared by removing the die inadequate to ablate this layer, yet the marking laser may
by parallel polishing from the backside of the package. This ablate it and allow an optical path to the die. This can result
layer of isolated mold compound was examined for optical in a false negative result for the OBIC/XIVA examination.
transmission by observing it in a microscope in the back However, since this is a statistically random phenomenon the
lighted mode. This produced an image showing total light false negative events can be mitigated with an adequate
transmission and distribution over the area of the die. This sample size.
revealed greater optical transmission near the wires where
larger glass spheres collected. Refer to figure 6. For many products the last step in the manufacturing process
is laser marking of the package. This means that final test is
Studies of size distribution of the glass spheres revealed that usually conducted before laser marking, so there is no monitor
the physical structures in the I.C. package act as filters to the for laser marking damage. Also, new integrated circuit
various sizes and large glass spheres can selectively collect at processes can be more sensitive to the laser marking energy.
specific locations. For example, the loops in the wires that Another case not addressed in this paper is the scenario where
extend above the die surface will allow particles smaller than the laser marking is performed directly on the back of the
the wire pitch to pass between them, whereas the larger silicon die.
particles are impeded from passing between them. Therefore,
large particles tend to collect near one side of the wires It was mentioned earlier in this paper that package was
depending on the direction of the flow of the mold compound prepared for laser injection by polishing the top of the
during injection into the mold. This results in a much higher package down to the depth of the normal laser marking
probability of vertically aligned large glass spheres in these ablation. This polishing produces a flat surface on many of
locations. Vertical alignment would not be expected at certain the glass spheres which does not represent the conditions
locations if they were randomly distributed. produced during laser marking where the glass particles
remain spherical. So the polished samples afford a more
favorable optical coupling interface than a full thickness
package and thus can be considered to be a more conservative
model. The laser acceptance angle of the spherical surface
with respect to a path that will reach the die surface is much

The observations in the previous paragraph may provide

insight into a solution to reducing the likelihood of damage to
the die during marking. That is, tilting the marking laser off
the normal axis should greatly reduce the amount of laser
energy reaching the die because the coupling between the top
most glass sphere and an underlying sphere would be greatly


It has been shown that the techniques of XIVA and OBIC can
effectively detect the existence and location of optical paths
through the mold compound above the die surface for plastic
encapsulated packages. These techniques are not 100%
effective because not all locations on a given die produce a
response to those stimuli. But if a reasonable sample size is
used and these techniques show no evidence of light
transmission to the die the confidence level can be considered
very high.


[1] Paranal, Paul Eric B., Localized Die Metallization

Damage Induced during Laser-Marking of Semiconductor
Packages, Proceedings of the International Symposium
for Testing and Failure Analysis, Nov. 4-8, 2007, p 226.