European Commission repeats call for “Airbus of chips”
Kroes and the European Commission are also adamant that they want to reverse the trend that has seen chip manufacturing in Europe declining as a percentage of global production. The Commission plans for Europe to be responsible for 20 percent of global chip manufacturing by 2020.
As Europe is currently down at 10 or 7 percent and there are major wafer fab construction plans in place around the world to achieve this goal would require the construction of 4 or 5 wafer fabs in Europe over the next few years, some delegates at the IEF event estimated.
Kroes has gone on record several times saying that nanoelectronics – including intellectual property, design and manufacturing – is strategic to the future of European wealth creation. She has appealed for companies based here to find common cause and to recreate the success represented by the formation of Airbus.
Airbus was the result of the politically driven consolidation of European defence and aerospace companies in 1999 and 2000 to form a single European champion aircraft maker with enough scale to compete with global rivals such as Boeing.
However, there have been few discernible moves to heed Kroes’s call. Although Europe has a strong position in semiconductor research a world leading chipmaking equipment company in ASML Holding NV, the commercial IC sales sector is fragmented and has largely moved to a fabless or fab-lite model. While many of these European chip companies have been happy to take European Commission money to support their R&D few show much appetite for capital expense of manufacturing.
Addressing the IEF attendees through the pre-recorded video Kroes said: "Airbus-of-chips is a shorthand, not just for manufacturing but also for design and technology and for wafers moving above 450mm wafers and [ICs] at below 20nm," Kroes said. that in May the Commission had come up with a strategy and in July with the public-private partnership known as ECSEL.
The announcement in May was of a commitment to spend more than €5 billion (about $6.4 billion) of public money across the semiconductor value chain over the next seven years. At the same time €100 million of support was announced for five pilot fabs addressing leading-edge technologies such as 450mm wafers, FDSOI, thinned wafers for power, MEMS and GaN-on-silicon. In July the European Commission announced that one funding mechanism to approach the 20 percent in 2020 goal would be the creation of the ECSEL public-private funding initiative.
"I don’t want to see money down the drain," she said. "By the end of this year electronics leaders are deliver a strategy roadmap for Europe. The goal is clear. Not just to reverse the declining market share of European semiconductors, but to double it by 2020….We are on schedule but time is of the essence," Kroes said in the video. "This is a global race. We can’t sleep walk to the finish line if we don’t want to lose."
The fact remains that the only commercial companies likely to build a full-scale multibillion-dollar wafer fab in Europe are not headquartered here. Of the world’s leading manufacturers only Intel and Globalfoundries manufacture in Europe and they may prefer to set their next fabs elsewhere. Delegates at the IEF were reluctant to say Kroes’s goal could not happen but agreed it was a "stretch target."
Malcolm Penn, founder and CEO of Future Horizons, said: "What Neelie Kroes wants Neelie Kroes usually gets. I would not want to be the executive that goes in to see her at the end of the year telling her it can’t be done."
Khalil Rouhana, director for components and systems within the European Commisson directorate responsible for communications, networks, content and technology, was attending IEF. He commented: "We hope industry will move otherwise our commitment will be revised as we move.
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