Yesterday I attended the IMEC Technology Forum at Semicon West. As always with IMEC, they present so much information it is like drinking from a firehose. I’ll say more about the future of process technology in a blog later this week, but this blog is about IMEC itself. It is an amazing success story. Let’s face it, if you were going to guess where the worlds most advanced semiconductor R&D is being coordinated, you probably wouldn’t have picked Belgium if you didn’t already know the answer.
IMEC is celebrating its 30[SUP]th[/SUP] anniversary this year. It is located in Leuven in Belgium. Originally it was called Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre but now IMEC is just its name. Luc van den Hove, the CEO of IMEC, gave a presentation on Creative Business Models in a Consolidating Semiconductor Landscape. Over the years its way of operating has changed. Originally it worked in individual partnerships with companies, and then it brought companies together to solve specific problems. In its current incarnation it partners with semiconductor manufacturers, and equipment manufacturers, at the pre-competitive stage, so currently focused on 7nm and beyond, two or three generations out beyond what is in current volume manufacturing.
The cost of semiconductor R&D has been rising faster than semiconductor revenue and has got so expensive that nobody can really go it alone. One way to get the costs down again is to share the costs. IMEC has gradually come to be the place where this sharing gets done. They are partnered with all 4 major logic manufacturers (Intel, TSMC, Samsung and GF) and with all 4 major memory manufacturers (Samsung, SKHynix, Micron and Toshiba/Sandisk). They are also partnered with almost all the equipment manufacturers.
They have a lot of clean room space (and more being built) and so can run experimental wafers, experimental equipment and so on. So the current semiconductor R&D model is that everyone cooperates at IMEC on the basic R&D. Currently a lot of work on new transistor architectures such as gate-all-around (GAA, silicon nanowires), vertical versions where source is on top of the gate on top of the drain with a silicon nanowire running vertically, and other futuristic approaches. Also new materials for the BEOL metal fabric. Not to mention lots of lithography work especially on the EUV roadmap and directed self-assembly (DSA).
I went to the Samsung Healthcare announcement about a month ago and I was surprised to find that they were partnering with IMEC, not just in semiconductor technology but in medical technology too. It turns out IMEC is a world leader in health innovation too, what they call the Internet of Healthy Things. Starting with fitness gadgets, then medical-grade ambulatory monitors, consumer-grade lab testing (sell for $10-20 in drugstores), on to DNA analysis, single cell analysis and even brain probes.
In fact using the foundation of their work in semiconductor they have built ecosystems of partners in areas other than medical: low power wireless, energy, sensor systems, automotive.
IMEC is the largest ecosystem in the world related to semiconductor technology.