Microchips are everywhere – in computers, smart phones, cars, in traffic control systems, in medical devices, as well as in intelligent management systems within factories in the fields of manufacturing, energy supply and development – the list goes on and on. Chips are the hardware for global trends like Industry 4.0, Internet of Things and cyber security. In this respect, software and IT play a key role, because without software the “smart” production in a digital factory would not be possible.
In Europe`s largest microelectronic business location “Silicon Saxony“ in the Freiberg-Chemnitz-Dresden triangle, companies and research institutions are working on the merging of the digital and the real world. Industry 4.0 especially offers the best chances for Germany and Europe to face the global competition. The efficient, self-optimising production with high cost benefits is already a reality in the Dresden semiconductor fabs. The fabs of Infineon and Globalfoundries already rank among the most automated chip factories in the world.
Intelligent technologies for a competitive economy. Intelligent software and powerful hardware – the chips, sensors and transmission modules that are developed in the Silicon Saxony region form the heart of a networked society. These technologies also stimulate the traditional industrial branches, from mechanical engineering to aerospace technology all the way to the automotive, medical and manufacturing industries. It is for good reason that ICT has been defined by the European Commission as one of the “Key Enabling Technologies“ for Europe to remain strong in the long run – after all, it is a cross-sectional technology that forms the basis for a sustainable economy.
The German microelectronics sector is strong, but it encounters increasing competition. Especially against the background of the latest data scandal, however, the production sites existing in Silicon Saxony represent a significant competitive advantage for the German economy: they keep Germany independent from competing markets such as the US and Asia with respect to chip production. This is of immense importance, because what use is the most secure software and the most sophisticated data structure, if the hardware on which it is installed, itself, poses a security risk for public and private business data? If it is possible to more or less configure chips and sensors so that they regularly “send signals home“, how secure can modern military systems, company data, power plants and traffic control systems be?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution as a chance for Germany and Europe. Facing an increasing global competition, Europe has to use its chances in Industry 4.0. Germany and Europe are well positioned to predetermine the roadmap for Industry 4.0 and to set standards – as a production site as well as a factory equipment supplier worldwide. Doing so, Europe`s share of the global microelectronics output could increase significantly, while important application industries are strengthened.
However, without good software the best hardware would be worth nothing. The software companies in Silicon Saxony are particularly specialised in industry issues and software development at the interface of traditional industries. The booming IT industry in Saxony covers the entire technology spectrum of hardware and (industrial) software, IT as well as services. A key competitive advantage is the strong network of the ICT and digital economy in Silicon Saxony: nowhere else in Europe can one find chip companies, research institutes and specialised suppliers on the one hand and software- and IT companies on the other, working so close together like this.
Microelectronic expertise from Silicon Saxony for energy-efficient ICT. The increasing digitalisation of the world also means a big challenge for us: the worldwide use of information and communication technologies (ICT) already devours some eight per cent of the electrical energy generated globally, thereby causing around two per cent of global CO2 emissions. Due to the strong growth of the ICT markets, a three-fold increase in ICT energy needs is predicted by the year 2020. This challenge has been taken on by the associates of the leading cluster “Cool Silicon – Energy Efficiency Innovations from Silicon Saxony“. The project partners in the leading cluster are developing innovative IT solutions together, which will significantly reduce energy consumption in the area of ICT, all the way down to energy-self-sufficient systems. The cluster partners include large international companies like Globalfoundries, Infineon, X-FAB and Zentrum Mikroelektronik Dresden AG.
Using cooperative experiences successfully at the European level. In order to meet the technological and economic challenges, Europe`s leading microelectronic locations have come together in a cluster alliance, “Silicon Europe – The Leaders for Innovative Electronics”. Here Silicon Saxony has been working together with the other large microelectronic clusters in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Austria in order to secure the position of European microelectronics, and above all, strengthen it internationally. Successful work in this transnational confederation is based not least on the Cool Silicon experience on how to facilitate cooperation across different organisations. Technological expertise and innovative strength, in combination with tight networks and strong cooperation among industry, science and administration – these are factors that have enabled the Cool Silicon leading cluster over the past years not only to develop energy-efficient innovative products for modern industrial applications, but also to create resilient structures for a strong European microelectronics industry.
Heinz Martin Esser
The author, who was born in 1955, studied engineering and economics in Cologne. For several years he worked in various positions in building and clean room technology before becoming CEO of Roth & Rau – Ortner GmbH in 1999. Since 2002, he has also been a member of the board of the industry-wide network of the microelectronics in Saxony, Silicon Saxony e. V., which was founded in 2001.