Dr. Matthias Hutter wins Fraunhofer IZM Research Award

Berlin, Dec 19, 2016  Solar power systems, wind turbines, hybrid cars: all devices in which direct current is converted into alternating current heat up. The power electronics in the power inverters have to withstand temperatures above 240 degrees Celsius — as does the packaging technology that interconnects the individual components in the modules. As expert in metallic bonding, Fraunhofer IZM’s Dr. Matthias Hutter has been exploring new types of bonds that ready electronics for high operating temperatures for over 20 years. The technologies he has helped advance electronic assembly soldering and corresponding failure analysis, transient liquid phase soldering and silver sintering. The 45-year-old’s novel insights over the course of his career have been groundbreaking in both research and industry circles. Just one example is his development in 2005 of fluxless soldering for large surfaces and flip-chip assemblies. The set of techniques, which yield void-free solder joints without the use of vacuum, were a milestone for Hutter and the institute as a whole, as they are relevant to the entire range of applications involving soldering, including die attach for power electronic units and optoelectronics, in which flux is particularly disadvantageous.

According to Hutter, every breakthrough requires a bit of luck. But that’s not all it takes. Just a few years after his invention of fluxless, non-vacuum soldering, Hutter extended his research to not only take fluxless soldering to the next level, but presented an entirely new soldering technology: a special type of tin-copper joint that increases the melting point in power units to above 400 degrees Celsius. Moreover, the unit’s lifetime and thus reliability increase the less the maximum temperature is reached. Hutter’s technological advance was registered as patent in 2010 – not the first or the last of his contributions to patents. His transient liquid phase soldering technique garnered him particular praise from automotive industry, as it was able to replace lead solder applications.

Matthias Hutter likes to repeat the maxim that every new technology is a team effort. However, we assert that his expertise and his commitment to turning scientific inspiration into reality were key contributions to the achievements. For this reason the research group head was presented with this year’s Fraunhofer IZM Research Award on December 16.

However, Hutter is also a mentor. He shares his knowledge and helps young scientists progress in their careers, including by supervising Masters and PhD students. What key message does he impart to the up-and-coming next generation? “Don’t just consider how your technology fits into a system, but consider the system holistically. And this requires a firm grasp of physical principles.” The researcher, who hails from Nuremburg, has done his homework. It’s a positive, that “there’s no one in this research area that I can look up to anymore. It’s a strange feeling.” Because this also increases the responsibility that rests on his shoulders. With great power comes great responsibility ­– a saying that holds just as true for scientists, as for superheroes like Spiderman.