ISS Europe: Bridging the valley of death

Heinz Kundert, president of SEMI Europe, started off the Industry Strategy Symposium Europe conference by noting that this year’s event attracted more than 200 attendees, and 30 sponsors. He said there are several new developments in the marketplace, such as the transition to 450mm wafers and smaller dimensions with EUV. “These will have enormous impact on the competitiveness of individual companies, as well as entire regions such as Europe,” he said. ISS Europe has a strong focus on 450mm this year, in an effort to showcase Europe’s strength in this emerging technology.

A common theme among the presenters on the first day was how Europe might bridge the so-called “valley of death” between basic research and volume manufacturing. Europe leads the world in research and new patents, it was generally agreed, but has lost ground to the rest of the world when it comes to putting these ideas into practice.

The first step in bridging this gap is to identify key enabling technologies (KETs), according to keynote speaker Professor Gabriel Crean, scientific director of the Division of Technological Research of the Atomic Energy Commission of France (CEA).

“We have to try to reindustrialize Europe,” he said. Three pillars needed to support the bridge between research and industrialization: 1) research and technological facilities, 2) pilot production lines, and 3) globally competitive manufacturing facilities.  In his keynote talk titled “Key Enabling Solutions for a Competitive Europe: Challenges and Solutions,” Crean said work at building the first pillar is already underway. “We asked for a significant increase in the budget for tech research in the European Commission budget,” he said.

He said KETs are essential to develop and manufacture any kind of advanced products, and therefore important to underpin European economic growth. The six KETS indentified by the European Commission as the most critical are:  Micro- and nanoelectronics; advanced materials;  nanotechnology;  biotechnology; photonics and advanced manufacturing. All of these are knowledge-intensive, and require rapid innovation cycles, high capex, and highly skilled employees. A commission identified KETs  in a report "Preparing for our future: Developing a common strategy for key enabling technologies in the EU" in 2009.

Crean said these KETs are at the basis of all advanced products we have today, particularly ones that have been successful  in Europe: cars, lighting and nanoelectronics. “No matter what example of a product we can find a number of those key technologies in there,” he said. He emphasized that many products require multiple KETs, and that they need to be addressed with a “multi-KETs” toolbox. That could be a challenge in the EU since different commissioners oversee different technology areas.  “We really need to see how we can optimize this moving forward,” he said.  

He noted with some alarm the “very aggressive” action in the U.S. at the federal and State level to attract foreign firms. He noted SAFT’s $200 million battery production facility in the U.S. was funded by a $95.5 million grant from the U.S. DoE. “The U.S. aggressively targets our KETs, our early champions of technology,” he said.

He also talked about Europe’s trouble maintaining its lead in the photovoltaic industry. He noted that in 2001, there were six German companies in the top 10. By 2010, there was only one (Q-Cells). “With the recent news that Q-Cells cutting manufacturing operations in Germany by 50%, and relocating them to Malaysia, there will none,” he said. “There’s a very unlevel playing field,” he added.

Europe recently implemented the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with funding 300+ billion euro.  This opens up “vast new possibilities of funding for microelectronics in Europe,” Crean said.


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