Munich’s Fraunhofer Institute Comes Full Circle

Ever since I interviewed Jürgen Wolf, manager of Fraunhofer IZM All Silicon System Integration Dresden (ASSID) about the Dresden-based institute’s 3D program, I’ve been meaning to also catch up with Peter Ramm, head of the silicon technology and vertical system integration department at the Fraunhofer EMFT (formerly IZM-M) to compare notes. Up until July 2010, the Fraunhofer’s 3D program had been a combined effort of the Dresden and Munich units.  Now, the two organizations, while collaborative, are independent entities, each with 3D activities of their own.  My opportunity to interview him came at last week’s IWLPC, where Ramm was delivering the kick-off speech about his work with the European 3D technology platform for heterogeneous systems.

Ramm provided some historical background, explaining how the Munich institute started out as an independent institute – the Fraunhofer Institute for Solid State Technology IFT  – and was actually the first microelectronic research organization in Germany. Unfortunately, during the 90s, the organization faced some (financial) problems with a trial to have an ASIC fab at the institute. As a result, it was closed as an independent institute and became part of the Fraunhofer IZM as the Munich division. “Now the Munich division has become successful, and since July, we are again an independent institution,” explained Ramm.

An outcome of this reorganization is the existence of two distinctly different 3D technology programs. Ramm explained that the 3D program at Fraunhofer EMFT focuses on heterogeneous systems and stacking devices containing MEMS systems. Fraunhofer IZM-ASSID, on the other hand, is focusing on interposer technologies and 300mm processes.  Additionally,  Fraunhofer EMFT’s work is based on 200m technology, serving small and medium sized companies and MEMS systems. The applications it targets is 3D MEMS IC integration, biomedical, wireless, sensors, etc .  For their work, explained Ramm, 300mm makes no sense for the near future.

Ramm acknowledged that although there’s a “friendly competition” between the two Fraunhofer organizations, there are also elements of collaboration between the institutes. For example, EMFT and ASSID are working together on interposer technologies for memory and on processor technology for memory on logic.  EMFT’s key competency is formation of the TSVs.  “Dresden needs Munich for TSV formation and Munich needs Dresden for 300mm,” he explained.

One scenario of collaboration, explained Ramm, is if a customer wants to develop a technology for 3D IC, R&D can start in Munich using the 200mm line, and then can transfer the process to Dresden’s 300mm facility, all the while working together with the customer and each other. Colleagues from Munich would be involved in the transfer to Dresden, explained Ramm. He noted that while the processes are similar, at 300mm they’re facing more problems handling thin silicon. The two institutes are working together to figure that out.

Among the current projects Ramm’s team is working on is the newly launched eBRAINS, which stands for European Best Reliable Ambient Intelligent Nanosensor Systems.  (Catchy name, isn’t it? Ramm admits he was going for the best acronym.)  This EU commission-funded consortium is similar to its predecessor, e-Cubes (not an acronym, it stands for electronic cubes) but has additional partners (Siemens, Sorin CRM in France for medical applications, and IQE in the UK for infrared technologies). Rather than focusing on developing the wireless sensor technology itself, integrating ICs, ultra- mini MEMS devices, RF, power, memory etc, as was eCube’s goal, eBRAINS will focus on improving the reliability of the micro and nano systems themselves.  Ramm said since the September 1 launch, he’s very happy with the way things are progressing.  We look forward to following the progress of this consortium on 3D InCites.