Single European Semiconductor Strategy on the Way

Single European Semiconductor Strategy on the Way

By Beat Mueller, director, Member Relations, SEMI Europe

ISS Europe 2013 just concluded a week ago in Stresa, Italy. The European semiconductor industry affirmed its ability to innovate and representatives from STM, Imec, CEA-LETI, ASML, Soitec and EU representatives debated directions for the future. More than 170 top industry representatives had lively discussions on a number of joint steps and strategic measures to strengthen their competitiveness and sustainability. The audience welcomed the panel's opinion that both "More than Moore" as well as "More Moore" should be pursued with renewed exploration of the synergies between the two.

Whilst the “More than Moore” sector is traditionally strong in Europe, continuing with “More Moore” is important for two to three device makers in Europe and in particular for the European equipment suppliers which export 80 percent of their products. On a global scale, the semiconductor industry is approaching the move to 450mm wafer processing technology — a step that promises to greatly boost the productivity of semiconductor manufacturers. However, since the investment to build a 450mm fab easily exceeds the 10 billion dollar mark, this move is regarded as risky and, for this reason, reserved only for the very largest enterprises. In the past, this perspective divided the European industry into two camps — the "More Moore" group that advocated taking on the 450mm challenge and the "More than Moore" group which shunned this risky investment and preferred to rely on application-oriented differentiation instead.

The event featured a high-ranking panel discussion on options and choices of a single European semiconductor strategy. The panel proved that entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well among Europe's chipmakers, technology suppliers and researchers. The time is ripe to close the ranks and take on the challenges, as the speakers in the panel pointed out. Judged on the basis of its expertise and abilities, the European semiconductor and equipment industry has remarkable strengths, the experts said unanimously.

"We have to think in European terms," said Luc Van den hove, CEO of the Belgian research centre Imec. "Talking in a common voice allows the European Commission to act and support this industry."  Jean-Marc Chery, chief Manufacturing & Technology officer of chipmaker STMicroelectronics, reminded everyone that a holistic approach is necessary. "We have to push the full value chain cooperatively," he said. The panel participants recognized that the European semiconductor industry possesses the necessary expertise. So far the willingness to jointly face these challenges has been affected adversely by the macroeconomic environment and the Euro crisis, which discouraged far-reaching strategic decisions. Members of the European Commission recently stressed the importance the semiconductor industry's vital role for the high-tech location Europe, certainly contributing to optimism in the industry. "We have all the knowledge, the materials and the equipment," said Rob Hartman, director of Strategic Programs for the leading equipment manufacturer ASML. "Let's do it in the EU."

European Commissioner Neelie Kroes' idea of creating an "Airbus for chips,” a European initiative for the semiconductor industry comparable to the initiative that once led to the launch of the Airbus in the aviation industry, was strongly hailed by the panel. "An Airbus for chips could be a very powerful tool," Van den hove said. "It does not need to be a single company, it also can be a framework of companies," added Laurent Malier, CEO of CEA-LETI. The main concern of the industry is the slow decision process of European institutions due to a complex political approval process inside of the European Union, the participants agreed. This industry is moving fast and so decisions need to be made quickly, too. The strong Euro and the lack of qualified labor are further regarded as potential stumbling blocks for the technological progress and the business competitiveness.

During the panel, the European Commission signaled its support for the industry as well. “If policy instruments would be combined on EU and national levels, a critical mass of support for R&D for both ‘More than Moore’ and ‘More Moore’ could be achieved,” said Khalil Rouhana, director Components & Systems at the European Commission.

The next edition of ISS Europe will be conducted in the famous city of Salzburg, Austria. We invite you to mark your calendar for February 23-25, 2014.

The European Union faces growing global competition from both developed and emerging economies. Although Europe remains in a position of relative strength, it must strategize to secure the future now. For more discussion, I encourage you to attend the Brussels Forum on May 24, 2013 (www.semi.org/brusselsforum).  Let’s work together to keep Europe in the race!

March 6, 2013