‘Virtual foundry’ plan for plastic chips

By Chris Edwards |  1 Comment  |  Posted: February 28, 2012
Topics/Categories: Commentary, Conferences, Design to Silicon  |  Tags:

A group of European research institutes and specialists in printed electronics have teamed up under a European Union Framework 7 programme to offer a ‘virtual foundry’ service to startups that have designs but lack their own manufacturing pilot lines for plastic and large-area electronics.

Ed van den Kieboom, president of the Printed Electronics Foundation which has just been acquired by SEMI Europe, said the initiative harnessed one of the strengths of the continent: its network of research and development organisations (RDOs).

“An extreme asset that we can use are these research institutes in Europe, such as IMEC’s Holst Centre and CEA, that bring new technologies to the market. Using them, we will create a virtual foundry for the startups. Those startups can go to the RDOs, the Fraunhofers and other, who will make available pilot production for them,” claimed van den Kieboom at ISS Europe in Munich this week.

The COLAE virtual-foundry programme is being coordinated by Finland-based VTT and the FP7 project, which began late last year, includes a number of research institutes around Europe that have expertise in printed electronics.

Van den Kieboom said the programme is at an early stage. It is not clear how startups will interact with the ‘foundry’ as, in contrast to CMOS silicon foundry relationships, design and process development will tend to go hand-in-hand as it still does today with microelectromechanical machined systems (MEMS).

Benedetto Vigna, general manager of the analog, MEMS and sensors product group at STMicroelectronics, said at ISS Europe he does not like to use the word ‘foundry’ to describe how the company works with customers such as HP, which uses MEMS in its ink-jet cartridges.

“I don’t believe the silicon foundry is a business model for MEMS. I say it is a joint development not silicon foundry model,” Vigna claimed. “We are combining processes that are driven by the application.”

Gerd Teepe, director of design enablement at Globalfoundries, said he disagreed with Vigna’s characterisation and that it should become possible to run MEMS-type processes under a more conventional foundry model as the processes mature. “We can meet in a few years and see who was right.”

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