The ambition plan ChipTech Twente shows the mission to make an important contribution to the European Commission’s ambition to be less dependent on Asia and the US for chip production. By strengthening the current chip design cluster, investing in research for heterogeneous systems, and realizing a heterogeneous chip factory in Twente, the cluster wants to contribute to solving the global chip shortage, as stated in the press release. Bram Nauta, Professor of Integrated Circuit Design at the University of Twente, and Timo Meinders, Director of the MESA+ Institute, today presented the plans to MEP Bart Groothuis.
Twente is an international hotspot for semicon and specifically for analog and mixed digital chip design, the development of photonic and microfluidic chips, and as an important supplier to ASML. With a strong Integrated Circuit Design department at the University of Twente headed by Professor Bram Nauta, the MESA+ institute, and around 50 semiconductor-related SMEs, customers worldwide can benefit from the unique knowledge of Twente. It is in this breadth and combination of (enabling) technologies such as electronics, photonics, and microfluidics where major opportunities await. The ChipTech Twente cluster sees opportunities to respond to this major challenge. “But action and investment power are required”, Bram Nauta adds.
Identifying electronics as a key technology
Bram Nauta: “With the EU Chips Act, the European Commission wants to invest in the next generation of chips. We fully support this, but we are also asking for increased attention in the Netherlands for the ‘forgotten’ field of microelectronics. We see that photonic chips are often described as ‘the next generation of chips’, but photonic systems will always need an electronic chip for their computing power and connection to applications. They are, therefore, not the successor to electronic chips but an interesting addition. Unfortunately, micro-electronics has not been designated as a key technology in the Netherlands by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. As a result, there is much less money available for (fundamental) research and the education of talent. Within the EU Chips Act, much attention is paid to solving chip shortages. We are not going to solve that problem in the Netherlands in terms of production, but if we do not strengthen our chip design talent, we will not be able to solve the chip shortage in Europe at all. Because before chips can be produced, they have to be designed for specific applications. By investing in electronic chip design and fundamental and applied research, we in Europe can balance the mutual dependencies between Asia, the US, and Europe.”
Integration of heterogeneous systems and foundry
The ambitions of ChipTech Twente go further. Because the future of chips does not lie in electronic or photonic chips, but in the integration of systems, Europe wants to invest in building up knowledge about these integrated systems and the machines needed to produce them. Twente is the ideal place for this, says Timo Meinders. “We have all the key technologies in-house: from analog mixed-signal and RF design to photonics, quantum photonics, microfluidics, materials, thin-film application, and advanced manufacturing. It is the combination of all these technologies that are needed to not only design heterogeneous chips but also to build the machines to produce these systems. Since heterogeneous chips are in an early phase of development, we see Twente as an excellent opportunity for the pilot production of these heterogeneous chips. We have the ambition to grow towards large-scale production. With the MESA+ Nanolab, we have experience with good cooperation between science and industry in the cleanroom. We want to use that experience to take the next step and set up a foundry where electronic, photonic, and soon also heterogeneous systems can be produced.”
Composing a roadmap
In the upcoming months, ChipTech Twente will set to work on composing a roadmap. This will involve close cooperation with Holland Semiconductors, MESA+, the University of Twente, Kennispark Twente, the province of Overijssel, Oost NL, Twente Board Development, Novel-T, and various SMEs. This roadmap is expected to be completed in September.
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