Expert interview: European collaborative programs

Editor’s Note: We are saddened to report the passing of European Contributing Editor Brian Dance several weeks ago. This was his final report for SST — an interview with Ian Burnett, past chairman of JEMI UK, discussing the end of Europe’s MEDEA+ programs and transition to the new collaborative R&D work under the CATRENE umbrella. We will miss his contributions and utmost professionalism.

by Brian Dance, European Contributing Editor, Solid State Technology

For a deeper understanding of the importance of MEDEA+ and the transition to CATRENE, WaferNEWS sat down with Ian Burnett, a director and past chairman, of JEMI UK (Joint Equipment Manufacturers Initiative), a trade association of companies that supply equipment and materials to the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Ian is also a member of the UK National Advisory Committee for Electronics Materials and Devices. He is involved with a number of UK companies manufacturing semiconductor processing equipment.

WaferNews: What do you see as the key achievements of the MEDEA+ work?

Burnett: The key outcomes of MEDEA+ are now being realized with participants commercializing the IP. Good examples are either leadership gained or significant improvements in competitive advantages, as reported in the Forum. [See “Successful MEDEA+ collaboration to continue under CATRENE.”]. The one key enabling technology has been lithography. What was thought to be the half-pitch linewidth limits for immersion lithography have been achieved in a production environment at IMEC.

Previously the current developments in lens NA and immersion fluid refractive index indicated that 45nm would be a realistic target for this technology. However, significant advances in lens design by Carl Zeiss Oberkochen plus investigations into alternative immersion fluids, which retain high transmission characteristics at the 193nm wavelength, now indicate that 32nm is realistic by immersion technology and 22nm may well be possible.

The lithography project is a technological program, but may become integral with many of the other technology and application programs. This is one of the strengths of the MEDEA+ umbrella, as by careful selection of technology programs, significant application advantages can be achieved quickly, as the technological barriers are being overcome ahead of, or in parallel with, showstoppers at the application level.

A good example of this is the MEDEA+ mobile broadband project SCUBA. Significant device development was done alongside resolving networking and software issues to deliver a complete working network, which is now demonstrated at the Alcatel-Lucent 3G Reality Centre in Stuttgart.

WaferNews: How would you summarize the success of the MEDEA+ programs?

Burnett: MEDEA+ had a very strong applications driven strategy, which made its technology relevant to real-life problems and ensured that all of the elements required to make the application work had been addressed, including the key areas of standardization and regulation. Even so, these programs and their aims would only be really understood by the technical community and, though the applications were very real, the average person in the street does not, for example, understand the significance of an advanced mobile broadband network or the advantages of 24V or 48V car electronics systems. They understand very well when their mobile phone cuts out or they cannot get a signal or their car does not start in the morning.

In Europe funds for R&D have become increasingly hard to justify from a government perspective, since the benefits are difficult to comprehend and justify against — for example, a reduction in direct taxation or increased spending in education. The need to relate expenditure to tangible benefits for society as a whole has forced the R&D community to adapt.

Consequently, CATRENE is being conceived with technology and applications programs as before, but with a number of lighthouse programs that drive these activities to provide these real-life benefits. Areas such as the three fields of healthcare and wellness, security and energy, and the environment are all addressed as lighthouse projects, and the applications and technology programs feed into or converge on these themes. Importantly, other research initiatives such as EURIPIDES, CELTIC, and ITEA 2, are involved and share technology solutions rather than developing in isolation. This is essential as optimal software and standards solutions are developed in parallel.

It is very difficult to argue against these goals for either individuals or governments, and most European governments are strongly committed in these areas. With this approach R&D and technology becomes integral to the solution, rather than parts of the problem, which occurs when R&D budgets are viewed in isolation.

Specifically in the UK, research spending is focused on a number of technical concepts, which are reviewed at approximately six monthly intervals in the government’s technology program. Although the feelings change, they broadly align with the three widely ranging aims above. By relating technological challenges to real-life benefits, the justification to continue or extend R&D becomes more compelling. For example, around the world many groups are spending heavily on R&D to produce defect-free GaN devices for high-efficiency LEDs. As we already know what we would like to do with these devices once we can make them and they become realizable and trustworthy consumer items, the payback to society as a whole in terms of reduced energy consumption is felt directly by both the consumer, who pays lower energy bills, and also by society as a whole through lower carbon emissions and reduced building of power generation plants.

CATRENE’s R&D model has won wide government support, despite financial constraints, due at least in part to its focus on the socio-economic benefits.

WaferNews: Is there not a risk in exposing the outcomes of R&D to a wider audience?

Burnett: R&D must be acceptable to society, just like all other activities, and must be targeted to provide solutions to current socio-economic problems as well as those that might occur in the future.

Governments may change and the areas of focus may change with them, although it is difficult to argue against support for the three above themes. It is the job of the R&D community to satisfy the needs and aspirations of society in which it exits. Also, failures in R&D are frequent and a part of the process. It is a necessary part of R&D that these futures are identified and explained in such a way that they still seem to have value. Knowing what does not work is as valuable for technological research as knowing what does work. The winning of the support of the general public is a key part of the current R&D environment.

I believe CATRENE’s model will become the blueprint for government supported R&D, not only throughout Europe, but at a global level. The role of organizations such as JEMI and other trade associations is invaluable in bringing together multi-disciplinary groups to work collaboratively and educate and share best practices to enable this method of doing R&D to flourish.

It also helps companies to adapt to new markets and speeds up the transition from niche market to a major sector. We have seen this recently with the involvement of Applied Materials in the solar sector, which was previously the preserve of much smaller equipment suppliers, and the focus that SEMI places on this sector at trade shows and in other activities. The sector has undergone dramatic growth and this has opened a much larger business opportunity for many SMEs who are individually much less influential. It has also enabled other equipment and materials suppliers to diversify their business so that they are less dependent on the DRAM market and its cyclic nature.

WaferNews: What else can JEMI and other trade associations do to stimulate this activity?

Burnett: JEMI runs a full program of technical visits, which also include universities, research institutes, and devicemakers that are on the periphery of the microelectronics market, such as those making medical devices, MEMS, and displays. Seminars and workshops focusing on particular areas also further interest in education and encourage sharing of technology between these sectors and sharing of best practice. Considerable exposure of academic work to industrial partners and commercialization opportunities are a vital part of ensuring effective outcomes to the funded research work. This is particularly effective when trade organizations set these interactions up for themselves, as the focus is more relevant to the members. It also provides for a more relaxed and less intimidating environment for discussions to take place. — John Brian Dance, European Contributing Editor

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