The European Commission wants Europe to increase its share of global semiconductor production from 10 percent to 20 percent by 2030. To this end, it plans more than 43 billion public and private investments under the European Chip Law. To achieve this increase in chip power, legislation will approve research and development allocations, incentivize manufacturing, and take steps to improve supply chain security. Joe De Beek, director of strategy and executive vice president of Belgian nanoelectronics R&D center imec, explained the proposed R&D framework and its likely impact on engineers at the 2023 IEEE International Conference on Solid State Circuits (ISSCC) last month at San Francisco. The R&D segment relies on the establishment of cutting-edge experimental lines to provide a path from laboratory breakthrough to factory production, and a network of competence centers to build capacity for semiconductor design. De Beek spoke to IEEE SpectrumSamuel K. Moore at ISSCC.

IEEE Spectrum: What would you say are Europe’s strengths in semiconductor manufacturing today?

Joe DeBeck: Well, production keeps quite a few things going. Therefore, first of all, I think about equipment and materials for the production of semiconductors. To think about [Netherlands-based extreme-ultraviolet lithography maker], ASML. If you go to the manufacturing side, you have some of our integrated device manufacturers in analog and analog mixed signal and power devices, which of course is a very important device and manufacturing area to work in. But clearly – and this is one of the reasons for the adoption of the Chip Law – there is no European production in the nodes with the most advanced technologies.
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However, how much focus should be placed on getting this cutting-edge logic rather than building on the strengths you already have?

De Beck: Well, if that means focusing on one means losing the other, I think that’s a bad choice. I think it’s important, first of all, to keep in mind a long enough look. 2030 is tomorrow in this industry. So if we want to increase production in Europe by 20 percent by 2030, and you are aiming to be the leader, you are already in a quandary. Before factories are built and technology is transferred, it will be close to the end of the decade. So we need to look further and continue to build on existing strengths such as IDM that produce the goodies we just discussed.

I think the important part is to find a way to maintain the R&D capacity and start teaching people how to design advanced nodes. If there is no demand [from chip design firms]there will be no economic reason to build a factory [in Europe].

You talked about building “capacity for innovation.” Could you first explain what you mean?

De Beck: The ability to innovate in our industry means two things: design and technology. And they must go hand in hand. They must be very close to each other. One capacity area will reside on the design platform, and that design platform will reside in the cloud, accessible from many locations. The idea is that there will be design capacities in each Member State through competence centres.

Design capacity is then balanced by innovation in semiconductor technology. This will be carried out at larger facilities, because it is necessary to purposefully invest there. They will be connected to competence centers to obtain specific knowledge and to enable pilot line design. Thus, the combination of a pilot line and a competence center represents an innovative potential.

You also mentioned virtual prototyping as part of the plan. Please explain what you mean by this and what is its role.

De Beck: I can explain using the example of network technology of rear power supply. (Ed: This technology is expected to debut in two to three years and power the transistors from underneath the silicon instead of from the top as they do now.) level study to see how, for example, a back distribution network can help improve chain performance. All of this requires collaboration between technology, electronics design automation vendors, and the design community. This has to be done first in the modeling and virtual prototyping phase before you can make full-fledged silicon.

You stressed the importance of integrated innovation. Please explain.

De Beck: Full stack means different things for different disciplines. But take, for example, the interaction between sensors and computing in the car of the future. This, of course, will require a high-performance computer that needs to interact with the environment, whether we’re talking to other traffic elements – pedestrians, cyclists, cars, etc. – or understanding weather patterns. vehicle whose data is to be fused by the computer. If you don’t know how this data will go to the sensor fusion engine, how much pre-processing you want to do on the sensor, you can focus on a sub-optimal solution when designing your sensor or system architecture. Maybe you need a neural network on your radar to convert the raw data into early information before sending it to the central processing unit where it will be combined with camera input and everything else that is needed to build a complete picture around the car or in it. environment. Such a situation will require the joint optimization of each element of this complete stack.

How can the EU Chips Act really help with this?

De Beck: Well, I think, in general terms, it could stimulate cooperation. It can help raise awareness and start educating people in this context, because you need young people to start looking at problems in that way.

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