Imec announces ‘European’ advanced-CMOS pilot line

Paul van Gerven
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Imec will host a pilot plant for beyond-2nm system-on-chip development aimed at boosting European competitiveness in semiconductors. Funded through the EU Chips Act program, the 2.5-billion-euro facility will support the exploration of new technologies in automotive, telecommunications, health and other application fields. “The investment will allow us to double volumes and learning speed, accelerating our innovation pace, strengthening the European chip ecosystem and driving economic growth in Europe,” says Imec CEO Luc Van den hove.

The advanced-CMOS ‘playground’ spearheaded by the Flemish research institute is one of four such initiatives that will be established in Europe. They’re funded jointly by the EU, the Horizon Europe and Digital Europe programs, the member states and private contributions. Public funding of the NanoIC pilot line adds up to about 1.4 billion euros, with the remainder coming from industry partners, including ASML. NanoIC isn’t exclusively European; European companies won’t get preferential access.

The NanoIC pilot line will be housed in a newly built extension of Imec’s cleanroom in Leuven.

A key aspect of NanoIC will be mechanisms that lower the threshold for startups, SMEs and research institutes to adopt the world’s most advanced chip technology. These services include making available early-stage process design kits (PDKs) for virtual device prototyping and system exploration PDKs for prototyping components using commercially available foundry processes. A network of competence centers will start offering design training, creating a pan-European design infrastructure. Foundries and integrated device manufacturers will be able to evaluate innovations in process flows and equipment, allowing for derisking new features before making internal investments and as such improving the speed and efficiency of industrial process development.

“Proximity is important,” Van den hove told reporters at a press conference, pointing out that European companies currently have to travel to other continents to get access to advanced semiconductor manufacturing facilities. Imec has been at the forefront of the development of such technology for decades but hasn’t offered large-scale pilot production services.

Van den hove pointed out that the pilot line shouldn’t be interpreted as a first step toward a European leading-edge foundry, similar to Japan’s Rapidus initiative.

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