The Department of Commerce is set to launch a competition aimed at bolstering domestic expertise in advanced packaging substrates and materials crucial for semiconductor development.

With the CHIPS Research and Development Office intending to distribute approximately $300 million over five years, individual awards may reach up to $100 million, as stated in a Feb. 1 notice of intent.

Competition guidelines will be disclosed on by March, with concept paper submissions expected around 35 days after the publication of the Notice of Funding Opportunity.

Under the CHIPS R&D mission within CHIPS for America, initiatives like the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP) are vital. The NAPMP initiative aims to drive U.S. leadership in advanced packaging, fostering a skilled workforce and enabling innovative packaging capabilities. Over the next decade, NAPMP activities, along with manufacturing incentives, aim to establish a thriving domestic packaging industry.

The focus areas include organic materials, glass and semiconductor-based substrates, with objectives to accelerate domestic R&D, transition innovations into U.S. manufacturing, establish sustainable domestic capacity and promote workforce diversity.

Funded activities encompass basic and applied research, prototype development, manufacturing preparation, education and training. Technical targets will be defined, encouraging proposals for advanced substrates with enhanced functionality.

The notice of intent stated proposals must align with advanced packaging education, workforce development and demonstrate commercial viability and potential for domestic production.

Gaurav Gupta, Gartner vice president and analyst, says to increase domestic chip fabrication and the overall ecosystem in the US, one needs trained workforce.

“This means education will play a critical role,” he says. The U.S. has been lagging in chip fabrication for years now and now potentially there is minimal interest from new students to join this industry.”

He chalks this up to a lack of opportunities over the years, which has discouraged people from considering it as a career choice.

“In this context, government funding to create work specific degrees, vocational programs or training is needed to develop and prepare the workforce for future,” Gupta says.

Co-investment partnerships between government entities and private organizations could benefit the development and commercialization of emerging chip manufacturing technologies, especially as chip manufacturing becomes even more expensive, especially for leading-edge devices.

Gupta explains that for decades, governments in countries in Asia, like Taiwan, South Korea and China have been providing subsidies, tax breaks and other forms of financial support to companies.

“This industry is different that software and services in the sense that continued heavy investments are needed and ROI takes time,” he says. “Now we see this happening in the U.S., Japan, India and in the EU as governments are waking up to the reality that they have been left behind.”

He notes that in post COVID, everyone realized how exposed they are to supplies of semiconductors from certain specific regions in the world.

There is a need to establish aggressive partnerships and supporting policies to move this industry ahead and grow it domestically- relevant for national security.

“Co-investments reduces risks and makes it financially viable,” Gupta says.

The National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC) and the national workforce center announced by the White House is likely to have an impact on the overall landscape of chip manufacturing in the U.S. and enhance next-generation semiconductor technology research and development.

“In today’s time world leadership stems from technology leadership and it is critical to stay ahead- especially in wake of this current trade war with China and given how aggressive China has been in promoting semiconductor ecosystem in China,” Gupta says.

From his perspective, the NSTC would be critical as being a common center for R&D and workforce center getting proper funds and support to extend leadership in semiconductors with R&D.

Gupta points out a big part of the CHIPS Act is to ensure U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology – not just bringing chip manufacturing to the U.S. – and that can only be achieved by being ahead with cutting edge research.

“Chip design and manufacturing research can be capital intensive, and these programs will help in a big way – not just with financial resources, but also creating programs for universities where interested students can contribute,” he says.