Europe to unite research efforts in Silicon Europe cluster alliance


A cluster of partners from across Europe are forming a new cluster alliance to cooperate in research, development, and business and reassert Europe's position as a leading world center for energy-efficient micro-/nanoelectronics, and information/communications technology.

The new collective organization, dubbed "Silicon Europe," brings together Europe's four leading micro- and nanoelectronics regions: Silicon Saxony (Dresden/Germany), DSP Valley (Belgium), Minalogic (Grenoble/France), and Point One (Eindhoven/Netherlands). They claim to represent about 800 research institutes and companies, including global leaders Philips, NXP, Globalfoundries, Infineon, STMicroelectronics, Schneider Electric and Thales ??? though more than 75% of all their partners are small and medium-sized businesses.

"Global competition is tough and investments into European microelectronics are declining," acknowledged Jean Chabbal, chief representative and CEO at the French Cluster Minalogic (Grenoble/France). Only 10% of all worldwide investments into microelectronics (~???28 billion) went to Europe, less than a quarter of the funds (48%) that went to Asia. Since 2000, Europe's market share in the semiconductor industry has dwindles from 21% to 16%.

Still, the region employs 135,000 workers directly and another 105,000 in supplier sectors, the group notes. "Europe is home to a number of the world's best-known, and most active regions in the micro- and nanoelectronics industry and the semiconductor industry, more specifically," with regional clusters consolidating work from industry, research, and government partners, Chabbal stated. "The European micro- and nanoelectronics sector must take advantage of this leading position and further expand upon it. This is the only way for Europe to maintain its role as a world-renowned leader in technology research and development."

This is a three year effort, as shown in the diagram above. "We want to set up a joint action plan that is organized between the four clusters," said Frank B??senberg, in charge of administration of Silicon Europe, speaking at a press conference in Dresden. "In the third year, we also want to start implementing this action plan. It's not only about creating paper, but doing some action. In addition to this, we want to involve if possible additional European players."

Details are not clear on precisely how the micro/nanoelectronics work will be shared and portioned out; the groups say they are currently analyzing each cluster's main research topics, identifying ways to synchronize activities and unearth and utilize previously unused synergies. In a published executive summary, the groups do identify three key objectives: promote the strategic importance of micro/nanoelectronics as a key enabling technology; secure European know-how across research institutes, design houses, and system integrators; and open up new markets by improving innovation and technology transfer from research to commercialization and internationalization.

Plans also are underway to develop a strategic technology roadmap, with the hope that it can be a template for future European Commission programs, explained Thomas Reppe, general manager of the German Cluster Silicon Saxony. The group also has identified a goal of making "a substantial contribution" to the European Union's "Europe 2020" growth strategy, which aims to advance R&D as a basis for improving European society. "With their activities, the European Commission aims at a digital and resource-efficient development [because] both of these core goals micro- and nanoelectronics are a decisive factor," noted Eelco van der Eijk, contact person for the high-tech industry at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Obtaining political support is key in the Silicon Europe's mission. Peter Simkens, managing director at the Belgian Cluster DSP Valley, called for a pan-European micro/nanoelectronics summit in the style of Germany's IT summit: "We are appealing to all national governments to increase the synchronization of their economic and innovation policy with the European Commission and its guidelines," he said. "Silicon Europe stands for the common interest of the European microelectronics industry [...] The European economy needs to expand on its strengths now, if it wants to remain competitive in the global market for the long run."

Some of that government support is already coalescing. "The Europe-Cluster of the micro- and nanoelectronics sites is a very important signal for both German and European politics. Together and across national borders we have to ensure that this key technology still has a home in Europe in the future," stated Michael Kretschmer, vice-chairman of the CDU Parliamentary Group at the German Bundestag, member of the German Bundestag, and member of the Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment. While acknowledging that previous European clusters haven't worked together, "I appreciate the Silicon Europe initiative and wish for it to find numerous supporters and advocates also in the German Bundestag and the German government. The high-tech nation Germany can simply not forego these technologies that by enabling innovations in various industries create jobs and prosperity." ??? P.S., J.M.

Solid State Technology | Volume 55 | Issue 9 | November 2012