Investing in manufacturing options will not be enough to safeguard Europe’s leading position in producing future generations of advanced semiconductor technologies. It is essential to translate the results of European research and development into mature technological innovations that can be manufactured in Europe. To this end, the state of Bavaria is funding a preliminary project to pave the way for the Bavarian Chip Design Center BCDC. On September 19, 2022, Bavaria’s Minister of Economic Affairs Hubert Aiwanger presented the Fraunhofer Institutes AISEC, EMFT and IIS with a funding notification in the amount of just under 1 million euros earmarked for establishing the Center.
We interviewed Dr. Thorsten Edelhäußer, Head of Research Planning at Fraunhofer IIS, about setting up the BCDC and what its role will be.
Who will benefit from the Bavarian Chip Design Center and how?
Dr. Thorsten Edelhäußer: The main beneficiaries will be Bavaria’s SMEs, start-ups – with and without experience in chip design – and larger companies as well. The Center will help these companies develop chip designs that let them realize their innovations. Working with its partners, the Center will provide easy access to highly developed generic circuit blocks, such as intellectual property (IP) cores or entire IP platforms like RISC-V. The BCDC will also provide development assistance in everything from defining specifications, designing circuits and providing access to production capacity, to chip packaging and production testing.
These offerings will be accompanied by active networking within the Bavarian design community to facilitate collaboration on defining technical roadmaps for upstream developments, IP portfolios and applications. In combination with a strong focus on nurturing young talent and professional development, the BCDC will work with Bavarian universities to address the region’s lack of professional chip designers.
What is the scope of the preliminary project and why have one at all?
Dr. Edelhäußer: Successfully establishing the BCDC requires a preliminary project in which the participating Fraunhofer Institutes – AISEC, EMFT and IIS – carry out basic concept tasks and the research work this requires. The goal of the preliminary project is to establish the organizational structure, set up networks and initiate the first topic-based research projects to pave the way for what will become the Bavarian Chip Design Center BCDC.
The project allows us to pool the chip design expertise of three Fraunhofer Institutes and collaborate with our partners from science and industry to set the course for next-level European chip design. But in addition to making it easier to produce chips in Europe, the BCDC is also about boosting the continent’s innovative power. In other words, by consolidating research efforts, we are creating the conditions for innovation and Europe’s ability to connect to the global market.
What’s the plan for the main project?
Dr. Edelhäußer: The BCDC’s role will be to bundle research expertise and expand networks with industry, while leveraging synergies and driving strategic projects forward. Here we’re talking about networks such as the Strategic Partnership for Sensor Technologies, synergies with the Zentrum Trusted Electronics Bayern and the Bavarian Chip Alliance, and joint strategic projects in, say, neuromorphic computing or RISC-V. We’re ultimately looking to establish a large pool of experienced chip designers in Bavaria and provide easy access to all aspects of chip production.
A crucial part of this is to promote the training and development of specialist chip designers. This is a very broad professional field, and we need people skilled in, for example, advanced node sizes of under 10 nm – most of all for digital design, but also in analog/mixed-signal and high-frequency design – to furnish all levels of the industry with more well-trained and motivated experts. This approach applies both to recent graduates as well as seasoned professionals. It’s about career enhancement, for instance through building on a university degree by adding a targeted training program to become a senior chip designer, or through participation in research projects to enhance expertise as part of on-the-job training.
What role does Fraunhofer IIS play and what makes the institute so well-suited for it?
Dr. Edelhäußer: Fraunhofer IIS has always conducted world-class international research for the development of microelectronic and IT system solutions and services. It is one of Europe’s largest research institutes for designing integrated circuits and shapes the evolution of innovative, integrated digital and mixed-signal systems.
We have extensive knowledge of designing analog, digital and mixed-signal circuits to industrial requirements. We also have many years of experience in professional chip design, both for applications that must demonstrate extremely low energy consumption and for platforms used in high-performance computing. Our inclusion in the EUROPRACTICE project is also a mark of our expertise. Here we provide universities and SMEs in particular with access to multi-project wafers for manufacturing chips in small batch sizes. We also consult on the transfer to large-scale production, and have been doing so for decades.
Fraunhofer IIS is well known for its outstanding training and development opportunities. What exactly are the options available and how do they benefit employees and industry?
Dr. Edelhäußer: Fraunhofer IIS does indeed maintain high standards for its in-house training of chip design experts. We offer specialized training courses according to a clearly defined syllabus, numerous professional and personal development opportunities, and ensure that new recruits are onboarded by experienced colleagues. Our junior researchers work on industry projects from day one, which familiarizes them with market conditions and requirements. Having benefitted from such support, they can leave Fraunhofer IIS to work as professional chip designers. In this way, we provide the industry with well-trained, motivated experts.