FORUM 2006

Planning ahead for nanoelectronics research

"Europe is no longer a follower but has become a leader in the global microelectronics market," said MEDEA+ Chairman Arthur van der Poel at the 2006 Forum in Monaco. "It is essential that we fight to retain high quality R&D in Europe for the nanoelectronics era. With better research conditions and focused actions to strengthen centres of competence, Europe will retain talent and even attract talent from abroad. It therefore makes sense to have a EUREKA successor programme when MEDEA+ comes to an end in 2008. We will publish a White Book on the proposed contents for ‘Beyond MEDEA+’ in 2007." The three key pillars will be communications, security and transportation with the aim of strengthening and maintaining the independence of Europe’s electronics industry while stimulating genuine public-private partnerships.

The 2006 Forum on 28 and 29 November attracted some 330 people from 20 countries. Opening the event, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco welcomed the interest in value-added activities in manufacturing and intellectual areas in his country, highlighting the 100 information and communications technology (ICT) companies active there. "It is not necessary to be a big country to have big ideas," said Prince Albert, quoting his father. Monaco joined EUREKA in 2005 and several companies are seeking to participate.

Exploiting major resources

"Three quarters of the way through the MEDEA+ programme, we have received 140 project proposals and there have been 74 labelled projects with 408 partners from 22 countries, involving over 20,000 person years," said Mr van der Poel in his review of MEDEA+ activities. "Calls are still being accepted for the last part of the programme."

There have been marked changes between Phase 1 and Phase 2 of MEDEA+, with France by far the biggest participant in both, while Italian and German involvement has declined, putting the Netherlands now at number two. Large companies have played the role expected, accounting for 33% of participants and 75% of total resources. Small and medium-size enterprise (SME) participation was 39%, equalling 12% of resources.

Major achievements of completed applications projects include:

    • Wireless communications, where MEDEA+ has played a key role in improving performance, boosting security and reducing power consumption;
    • Automotive electronics, where MEDEA+ has contributed to platform development and de-facto standardisation; and
    • Smart card technologies, where MEDEA+ has been instrumental in keeping Europe at the leading edge and maintaining manufacturing here.

On the technologies side, MEDEA+ has boosted EuropeÂ’s global position in extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography essential for production of future chip generations. Success in projects on 90nm and 65 nm nodes has ensured Europe remains in the vanguard worldwide and is encouraging industry to collaborate in the next step to the 45 nm node.

      Strong project results

      Two projects indicated the importance of MEDEA+ research. Bruno Ghyslen of SOITEC presented the 2T101 Strained silicon on insulator substrates for high performance ICs (SILONIS) project which combines high mobility strained silicon and silicon on insulator (SOI) to provide a wafer materials platform anticipating sub-45 nm node production. This device-technology driven materials innovation has become a hot topic worldwide. At the halfway stage, SILONIS has already demonstrated thick and thin strained SOI, both partially and fully depleted, with world class materials improvements.

      On the applications side, Michel Dieudonné of Agilent presented the A111 Multi-antenna transceivers for QOS, ubiquitous and improved wireless services (MARQUIS) project. Multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) technology now plays a major role in improving the capacity and quality of wireless links for mobile communications. MARQUIS took a technology that was purely academic three or four years ago and implemented it in the real environment under realistic testing conditions. The outcomes included new hardware and algorithms as well as innovative channel modelling and measurement techniques.

      Jean-Pierre Tual of Gemalto demonstrated the successful cross fertilisation and exploitation of MEDEA+ innovation and project results in the area of smart cards. Chip cards are used globally in telecommunications; other important applications include healthcare, government services and mobile multimedia, with an annual growth rate of nearly 20%. By 2010, as smart cards evolve to fully fledged computers, they will play a key role in ambient intelligence. MEDEA and MEDEA+ projects have made major contributions, particularly MEDEA+ A302 Esp@ss-IS that finished in 2004 and 2A302 Onom@Topic+, finishing in 2007. Their results have been enhanced through close co-operation with other European and national initiatives, and in collaboration with EUREKA ITEA (software), CELTIC (telecommunications) and PIDEA+ (packaging) Clusters.

      MEDEA+ played a key role in embedded memories according to Frans List of NXP Semiconductors. Projects such as T126 Blueberries and 2T201 NEMeSys have led to major advances in SRAM and magnetic RAM (MRAM) with developments in embedded non-volatile memory (NVM). Embedded memory is now set grow significantly in smart cards, automotive electronics, consumer equipment and communications. MEDEA+ partners have strong positions in smart card and automotive markets. MEDEA+ support has been crucial in uniting European players and preparing results for industrialisation.

      Catalyst for ecosystems

      MEDEA+ has also served as a catalyst for European ‘ecosystems’ – poles around which chipmakers, systems designers, materials and equipment suppliers, and research centres and universities can focus to improve cross-fertilisation and exploitation of innovative new technologies. The results include establishment of globally competitive infrastructures, creation of thousands of jobs and visible effects on local economies.

      The importance of ecosystems was underlined by Mike Thompson of STMicroelectronics, who focused on the development of Crolles-Grenoble. This started with LETI – set up by the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) – in the 1960s. Thomson established a joint programme with LETI in the 1980s, expanded in 1987 after the merger that formed STMicroelectronics. And the first Crolles Alliance was set up in 1992 when Philips – now NXP – joined with STMicroelectronics to develop CMOS at Crolles.

      Crolles 2 moved beyond Europe when Motorola – now Freescale – signed up. This Alliance shares core CMOS research in terms of intellectual property and common manufacturing options. And agreements have been made with LETI and with equipment suppliers. All this expanded further with the formation of the Minalogic Cluster of Competitiveness focusing on micro- and nanotechnology and on embedded software.

      The resulting pole offers a win-win model that brings wealth in terms of employment and other benefits. "However, while public investment has provided support for European ecosystems – the public authorities have contributed some €450 million over five years to Crolles-Grenoble – annual fiscal pressures on capital investments there remove the equivalent of the wage costs of 8,000 people in Singapore," said Thompson.

      Drive for innovation

      The real information society is yet to come according to Jozef Cornu, chairman of ISTAG – the European Commission advisory body on ICT. "Digital technologies do not just enable us to do new things but they shape how we do them," he said. "We have to learn to think ICT from the outset as it answers many of our societal problems."

      ICT provides new forms of social interaction and community building, offering new solutions for healthcare, transport, energy, security and learning. There is a particular need for the public sector to increase investment in ICT to cut costs and provide a better service to the public. Future research needs to concentrate on a systems approach to reduce complexity and put users at the centre of the innovation process. Europe also needs to overcome fragmentation with the redefinition of standards to overcome regulatory roadblocks and improve interoperability.

      "Europe must add value through innovation," insisted Frans van Houten, CEO of NXP Semiconductors. "We need to keep reinventing – and we must let go of what we can’t do any more." This demands:

        • Creativity and intellectual support – requiring education and the opening up of our borders for external contributions;
        • Reasonable costs – now difficult to achieve in Europe but needing productivity increases;
        • Passionate leadership – offering a real future and hope to workers; and
        • An encouraging environment – with much faster public support through actions such as the ENIAC and ARTEMIS technology platforms.

      Nearly 20% of Siemens business is in the transport area and ‘mega’ trends in this area are governed by urbanisation, infrastructure and demographics, according to Gunter Lugent of Siemens. Global vehicles sales are forecast to double by 2020 – from just over 50 million now to 100 million a year. There are strong differences between regions with emerging markets developing strongly. While growth will be much slower in Europe and North America, these are very big markets. New functionalities will include emission reductions and accident prevention or avoidance.

      Ulrich Schaefer of Bosch reflected on overall semiconductor growth – an average of 15% a year since 1960, though dropping to 7% in the last decade. However automotive electronics with an annual increase of 9.1% and communications with 8.4% have bucked the trend.

      In the automotive industry, electronics played a key role in improving fuel consumption despite moving to more powerful engines. And use of electronics has been crucial in reducing road deaths. There is a problem in the long cycles in the car industry with parts in production for up to 25 years. Nevertheless, healthy growth rates and stable prices make this an interesting market, particularly in the form of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), despite its relatively small size. Technical demands include chips having to operate at ever higher temperatures – from the current 150º to 210ºC in the future.