Military researchers seek to start domestic research center for 3DHI microsystems design and manufacturing

July 25, 2023
DARPA’s expansion to heterogeneous integration also includes compound semiconductors for RF and photonics for interconnect, and novel memory devices.

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military electronics experts are reaching out to industry for information to help them establish a domestic research center for fabrication of three-dimensional heterogeneously integrated (3DHI) microsystems.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, Va., issued a request for information on Friday (DARPA-SN-23-84) for the Establishing a Domestic Center for R&D and Manufacturing 3-D Heterogeneous Integration (3DHI) Microsystems project.

Phase 0 of the DARPA Next-Generation Microsystems Manufacturing (NGMM) program is determining the software and hardware tools, process modules, electronic design automation (EDA) tools, and packaging and assembly tools necessary to manufacture representative 3DHI microsystems.

The next phases will look into heterogeneously interconnected components for defense and commercial companies. Technologies of interest are compound semiconductors, photonics, and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), power, analog, radio frequency (RF), digital logic, and memory.

Related: Northrop Grumman eyes research into 3D integrated circuits chip packaging for artificial intelligence (AI)

DARPA’s expansion to heterogeneous integration also includes compound semiconductors for RF and photonics for interconnect, novel memory devices for computing, and wide-bandgap and ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors for power electronics.

Toward these goals, DARPA officials seek to establish an open-access research center to address the design, packaging, assembly, and testing of 3DHI prototypes.

The NGMM program first will establish a center at an existing facility, with state- of-the-art packaging, assembly, and testing of either digital, RF, photonic, or power devices, and focus on pre-commercial 3DHI pilot-line capability such as stable packaging and assembly process and a 3D assembly design kit (3D-ADK).

Phase 2 will optimize the 3DHI process, increase packaging automation, and start collaborative research with external microelectronics organizations. Upon completion of Phase 2, oversight of the NGMM center will transfer from DARPA to another government agency.

Related: Microelectronics design and manufacturing for 3D microsystems highlight DARPA ERI 2.0 summit in Seattle

This center will enable technology transfer of equipment, processes, and designs that are developed within NGMM to support fabrication of these microsystems at external commercial and defense packaging facilities.

The next major wave of microelectronics innovation is likely to come from integrating heterogeneous materials, devices, and circuits through advanced packaging to produce a tightly coupled system that extends into the third dimension with performance that exceeds what is available from today’s monolithic approach.

Industry leaders today use 3D integration of modestly dissimilar silicon digital technologies for a narrow range of commercial products, from stacked dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) to complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) imagers to high-performance computing.

Today’s mature integration techniques, even those often referred to as 3DHI, focus primarily on low-power leading-edge CMOS, legacy CMOS, and silicon-based memory. Still, the opportunity to improve defense systems relies on expanding the types of microelectronics that can be integrated and assembled. Advancing digital integration requires increasing interconnect densities well beyond today’s state-of-the-art.

Related: Northrop Grumman eyes quick design of defense electronics by integrating complex IP blocks

The U.S. today has no open-access center with capacity for sustained 3DHI research and development. With very few exceptions, U.S. companies engaged in 3DHI research rely on offshore facilities.

An open-access domestic center for 3DHI research could promote an expansive wave of innovation, promote shared learning, and ensure that start-ups, academia, and defense companies could engage in 3DHI research for low-volume products.

From industry, DARPA wants information on facility capabilities; size and class of cleanrooms and laboratories; facility capabilities for multi-chip, multi-semiconductor materials assembly, packaging, and testing of 3D stacked chips and chiplets; throughput requirements for high-use tools; recommendations for simultaneous back-end-of-line processing of silicon, compound semiconductors, MEMS, materials such as diamond; personnel requirements for 3DHI manufacturing; ability to manufacture 3DHI microsystems smaller than 500 nanometers; metrics for assessing tool automation; and potential funding sources.

Companies interested should email responses no later than 15 Aug. 2023 to [email protected]. Email questions or concerns to DARPA's John Blevins at [email protected].

More information is online at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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