In the current discussion around the shortage of semiconductors and technology leadership in the microchip market, it might seem as if Europe has nothing to offer in the semiconductor sector. But that is not the case: across the entire continent, we have seen the formation of various clusters in recent years in which actors from different areas of the semiconductor industry have come together.
The European Union believes strengthening semiconductor expertise in Europe is an investment in a key future technology and an important step for maintaining and expanding its competitiveness. It has therefore invested billions into this endeavour in the form of the “European Chips Act” and the development programme “Important Project of Common European Interest” (IPCEI). In the current discussion, it often appears as if Europe were more or less a desert when it comes to the semiconductor industry. Nevertheless, almost ten per cent of all semiconductors globally are, in fact, produced in Europe. Over the past few years, we have seen the formation of clusters all focussed on semiconductor technology. These are regional hubs where different actors in the semiconductor industry have taken up residence. Eleven of these cluster regions alone have joined forces to form Silicon Europe – representing around 2,000 cluster members from science and industry.
Chips and more from Saxony
The largest micro-electronics site in Europe ist “Silicon Saxony”, which has the four semiconductor fabs Globalfoundries, Infineon, Bosch and X-Fab near Dresden as its key companies. According to the association, every third chip produced in Europe now bears the imprint “Made in Saxony”. A large number of companies from various areas of the semiconductor industry have come together around the fabs – around 2,500 Saxony-based companies with 70,500 employees are active across all stages of the value chain. They also benefit from the highly academic environment in this free state: four universities, five technical colleges, nine Fraunhofer institutes, three Leibniz institutes, one Helmholtz institute and two Max-Planck institutes are active in the field of micro-electronics/information and telecommunications technology – and often even world-leading. This makes “Silicon Saxony” Europe’s largest micro-electronics location and the fifth-largest in the world. So much expertise and development attracts additional investment, as Harald Kröger, Member of the Board of Management at Robert Bosch GmbH, explained: “In Dresden, modern entrepreneurship meets scientific excellence and industrial-political responsibility,” said Kröger. “Bosch has therefore made the conscious decision to make the largest single investment in its more than 130-year history here in the region.” In 2021, the company’s new semiconductor factory in Dresden went into operation; the new site produces semiconductors on the basis of 300-millimetre technology for the growing number of applications in mobility and the Internet of Things.
Highlands of micro-electronics
In 2021, Infineon also opened its new high-tech chip factory for power electronics on 300-millimetre thin wafers, but chose Villach in Austria for its site. With this investment, the “Silicon Alps Cluster” experienced considerable momentum. AT&S and AVL – who are active in mobile energy supply – have also invested substantial sums here. “Networks and clusters are the foundation for innovation, economic success and the competitiveness of regions and companies,” said Dr Robert Gfrerer, CEO of the Silicon Alps Cluster GmbH. The Silicon Alps Cluster is a fast-growing network of companies, organisations and research institutions, dedicated to the development of the electronic and micro-electronic sector in the south of Austria.
Chips from the Emerald Isle
Ireland is another of the key semiconductor production centres in the EU, and it has been operating in the semiconductor space for several decades: in 1976, Analog Devices opened a factory in Limerick, and the opening of Intel’s European production and technology hub near Dublin in 1989 saw the industry become firmly established on the Emerald Isle. One reason for this is bound to be that the Irish tax system has been especially competitive for a long time. Since then, Ireland has also seen the formation of an industry-led cluster, MIDAS, which consists of around 70 industrial companies, educational and research institutions and government agencies. The members operate across the entire spectrum of the micro and nano-electronics industry in Ireland – design, consultation, technology, research and manufacturing.
A sector of significance
These days, the European semiconductor eco-system provides around 200,000 direct and up to 1,000,000 induced jobs in systems, applications and services in Europe. According to the European Semiconductor Industry Association (ESIA), overall, micro and nano-electronics help to generate at least ten per cent of GDP in Europe – which demonstrates another success of the strong semiconductor clusters. “Collaboration between industry and governments is of vital importance for further success,” said Kurt Sievers, President of the European Semiconductor Industry Association (ESIA).