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FITEP: a Flexible Implantable Thin Electronic Package platform for long term implantation applications, based on polymer and ceramic ALD multilayers
Keywords: miniaturized implantable chip package, hermeticity, flexible device encapsulation
Within our internal FITEP technology platform (FITEP: Flexible Implantable Thin Electronic Package), a novel implantable packaging technology is under development in order to realize a very small, flexible, biomimetic package for electronic implants. This new platform enables a radical miniaturization of the final implanted device, which opens many new possibilities for the medical world, since it will be possible to insert electronic sensors in very small locations, such as arteries, nerves, glands,... The device encapsulation consists of a multilayer of biocompatible polymers and ultrathin ceramic diffusion barriers deposited using ALD techniques (ALD: atomic layer deposition) in order to fabricate a very thin and flexible but also highly hermetic device packaging. Concerning the selection of biocompatible polymers, polyimide can offer a profound mechanical support for the various device components, while Parylene with its excellent step coverage creates a highly conformal coating surrounding all components. Hermeticity can be realized by the use of ultrathin ceramic ALD layers such as Al2O3 and HfO2. An optimized ALD process will result in layers from very high quality with very good step coverage. As such, selected ALD layers of only a few tens of nm thick, can exhibit very low Water Vapor Transmission Rates (WVTR), making these ALD materials ideal as ultrathin diffusion barriers. The tested polyimide/ALD stack proved to be a very hermetic enclosure: copper patterns protected with the polyimide/ALD stack are still in perfect condition after more than 2 years of immersion in saline at 60C (test is still ongoing), while Cu patterns protected by the polyimide stack without ALD barriers showed first signs of damage already after 6 weeks exposure to saline. Platinum and gold are best suited for metallization of implanted electronics, but these noble metals do not adhere easily to polymers, hence dedicated measures to promote metal-polymer adhesion are essential. The FITEP platform is applied on a Si-probe for implantation in the peripheral nerves, consisting of a CMOS chip with recording and stimulation electrodes [Op de Beeck, M. 2017]. The chip is thinned down to 35um and packaged using polyimide and ALD multi-stacks, resulting in a 75um thin fully encapsulated chip, optimized to reduce the Foreign Body Reaction to obtain optimum electrode-nerve contact. Flexible interconnects are fabricated using gold and platinum sandwiched between polymers and ALD layers. For optimal charge injection, iridium oxide is used as electrode material. After this hermetic FITEP-based chip encapsulation, the CMOS chip is still fully functional, which was tested dry (in air) as well as during submersion in saline. First acute in vivo stimulation tests have shown good electrode stimulation capabilities. Mechanical bending tests on long 5um thick gold interconnects are performed, showing that even after up to 1.5 million bending cycles, no cracks occurred in the gold patterns (testing in air). Longer term immersion in saline and in-vivo testing showed some problems related to loss of adhesion and to galvanic effects of the metallization. These observations were leading to some improvements in the fabrication of the encapsulation. In a second packaging iteration of the CMOS chip, these improvements were realized and a new series of encapsulated devices is fabricated. First results are promising, showing improved metal adhesion. Longer term stability tests are on its way.
Maaike Op de Beeck, Program manager, Prof.
imec / CMST
Gent, Oost-Vlaanderen

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