Ruminations on the electronics industry from David Manners, Senior Components Editor on Electronics Weekly.
Europractice under threat
Europractice, the only way European universities, researchers and small businesses can get chip designs put into silicon, is under threat from a gap in its EC funding arrangements.
‘There is a danger,’ says Europractice in an email to its clients, ‘that after 20+ years of successful operation that the continuation of Europractice may be threatened due to familiarity and complacency.’
Europractice provides advanced chip design tools and uses multi-project wafer (MPW) runs at leading foundries on leading edge processes to deliver advanced silicon to academics and start-ups.
Since chip manufacturing has been designated a ‘Key Enabling Technology’ by the EC, it is unimaginable that such a vital service to Europe’s current and future IC design and fabrication capability could be in any way threatened.
Jean Therme, Director of CEA-Grenoble and Chairman of the European Key Enabling Technologies High Level Group, speaking to the ISS-SEMI Conference in Grenoble earlier this month, said that the EC had decided that Europe must retain its ability to manufacture chips.
Since MPW runs are the only way in which university students, post-graduates and researchers can get exposure to manufacturing issues, the denial of access to MPW wafers would be counter-productive to the EC’s expressed technology policy.
One of Europractice’s customers tells me: “Europractice plays a crucial role in offering modern design tools and access to good chip fabrication services to students and researchers, and in some cases small businesses. The service offers a crucial, unique bridge between academic research and practical implementation. The many hundreds of electronics research institutions across Europe who use the service would be without an alternative if the service goes under. The software licenses and access to MPW runs on decent processes would be unaffordable. My personal experience of the service is that it is efficiently and sensibly run; a ‘force multiplier’ which would be sorely missed.”
664 European institutions, including 537 universities and 127 research institutes use Europractice design tools and fabrication facilities.
Now, however, there could be a six month gap in its operations as doubts arise over the future of the contributions to its funding made by the EC.
Current funding is due to expire on 31 December 2011. The next appropriate EC funding call is in January 2012. The earliest it will be known if the next Europractice project proposal has been successful in attracting EC funding will be July 2012.
Consequently there could be a gap in EC funding for a period of 6 months or longer
An email from Europractice to is clients states: ‘Although Europractice is funded to a large extent by End User Membership fees and design tool and IC fabrication charges, Europractice relies on continuous modest EC funding to be able to offer these stimulation activities and services to the academic sector at affordable prices. This is in stark contrast to comparable schemes elsewhere, such as CIC in Taiwan and CMC in Canada, which are almost entirely centrally funded.’
The email adds: ‘Europractice was not able to secure sufficient EC funding to subsidise advanced technology nodes to the more affordable levels offered previously. Consequently we can only hold the IC fabrication prices at the current level during 2011, until the subsidy has been consumed.’
Tags: edge processes, european universities, fabrication capability, start ups, wafers