While I am very dedicated to my role as a blogger for the semiconductor industry, there is one thing to which I am more dedicated: A good night’s sleep. So for the Live days of ISS Europe 2021, I only attended the panel discussions that were scheduled at 7 am in my time zone. Each day focused on one hot topic from the European perspective: digital transformation, sustainability, and healthcare. This blog post focuses on digital transformation and sustainability. If you’re interested in learning more, the event is still available on-demand here.
Europe and the Digital Transformation
Leonard Hobbs, General Manager MIDAS Ireland, moderated the panel discussion on the digital transformation. Panelists included Syed Alam, Accenture; Prof. Gerhard Fettweiss, Technical University Dresden; Heike Riele, Ph.D., IBM Research; Martin Bailey, European Commission, and Jean-Luc Beylat, Nokia Bell Labs. The panelists fielded questions about adopting the technology we create, how Europe can win back 20% of worldwide semiconductor production, the 5G rollout in Europe, the role of humanity in understanding machines, and the importance of collaboration.
Are We Eating our Own Dogfood?
Ironically, while as an industry we are enabling the digital transformation, it turns out that we are slow in applying digital technology – such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and cloud computing – to our own businesses. Alam explained that the reluctance is often due to IP concerns and data sensitivity. That is beginning to change in Europe, as companies begin to deploy AI and ML for manufacturing improvements, particularly at the leading edge.
How Can Europe Win Back 20% Production?
According to Bailey, one thing the pandemic brought to the forefront was the need for Europe to strengthen its own resilience and competitiveness in the semiconductor industry. Suggested approaches include:
- Improving and building industrial alliances through coordinated R&D and investment plans
- Creating transparent and compliant business models targeting crucial markets such as automotive, health, and industry
- Focusing on projects of common European interest
- Incentivizing global top tier players to bring manufacturing to Europe
Sharing IBM’s experience, Riele explained how Europe could take advantage of global companies like IBM through close collaborations. The company has created alliances with ST, CEA-Leti, Infineon, and Siemens to create an AI hardware center. Global collaboration is key to making products broadly available, she explained.
One issue that the panelists discussed at length was the trend for the companies in the U.S. and Asia to snap up the European tech start-ups. As a result, European companies are losing out on leveraging technology that was developed in their own back yard.
Bailey noted that unlike Silicon Valley, where AI team leads are under 30 years old, Europe’s hierarchical mindset reflects that of older companies that are not open to the ideas of the younger generation. This needs to change if Europe wants to lead in advanced technologies like AI and ML.
Riele attributed some of it to the entrepreneurial spirit of the tech start-ups. “Young companies want to grow and be acquired; they don’t want to grow and grow. It’s a pity that they are always acquired overseas rather than by European companies,” she said.
The 5G Scorecard
5G is critical to an IT world driven by cloud services and is a key element to digital transformation. While Bailey says connectivity is the first flagship under Europe’s recovery and resilience fund and Europe is pushing hard for it, The EU is currently trailing Asia and the U.S. in both deployment and investment in the 5G infrastructure. Beylat says Europe needs to invest in 5G and lead the transformation rather than follow.
Bailey noted that much of this is due to the difference in value systems between Europe, Asia, and the U.S. In Europe, the regulatory framework is built first, followed by the financing.
The Human/Machine Interface
Fettweiss explained that the humanities should play an important role in understanding how people work with machines. To build trust, we need a common rules framework that everyone adheres to. He talked about the importance of “thing” rights in the future so that data gathered by devices can be automatically anonymized when it imposes on user privacy. For example, a webcam set up in one person’s backyard should scramble any images that would pose an intrusion on the neighbors.
King/Queen of Europe for the Day
Hobbs asked all the panelists what they would do if named King or Queen of Europe for the Day. The responses neatly summarized the discussion. Here’s what they said.
As King for a Day, Fettweiss would issue an edict to embrace digitization as a societal challenge. “Decisions we make over the next five years will set our path,” he said. “We can become a dominant source of innovation embedded with trust.” We need to learn from history to understand how journalism and trust have evolved and apply them to the digital transformation.
As Queen for a day, Riele would encourage Europeans to use their strengths and change their mindset to see opportunity and not focus on risks and fear. She would leverage Europe’s leadership in security and privacy to make them trend-setters. “Do the right things and everyone will follow,” she said. “Embrace innovation. See the risk. Be practical. Reduce bureaucracy.”
Beylat says he would use his sovereignty to find solutions that will make sense for climate impact. This is a key element for the future, and its value considered in addition to technology.
The value of privacy also enters into that equation.
Bailey, Alam, and Beylat agreed that changing Europe’s mindset to match the US and Asia more closely in funding high-end projects is necessary. This involves building bigger partnerships between big established companies and smaller ones, looking for new methods of collaboration, and concentrating on vertical markets where Europe has led the way.
Because Dean Freeman focuses on covering sustainability in semiconductor manufacturing for 3D InCites, I’ll leave the details of this day to him. I did attend and have some thoughts about the panel discussion, moderated by memsstar’s Peter Connock, and featuring Clara Otero Perez, NXP; Jean-Louis Champseix, ST Microelectronics; Chris Jones, Edwards; and Dr. Adam Schafer, Intel.
One of the things that struck me most was how vast and complex the challenge is. Champseix put it succinctly by saying we need to do sustainability in a sustainable manner. That means defining long-term goals and moving sustainably towards them. Jones pointed out that we also need to have a common understanding of what sustainability means and how we cast our nets. For example, it’s common practice for waste ammonia to be sent off for agricultural use, but does that mean we’re just passing the problem off to another industry to deal with?
Electric vehicles (EVs) are another tricky business. While they reduce greenhouse gas emissions by not burning fossil fuels, the batteries are not exactly green. Connock talked about the promise of hydrogen, noting that we always need to be innovating. Additionally, the cars of 20 years ago contained 20 chips, while today’s EVs call for 5800 chips, according to Champseix.
And then there is the delicate matter of return on investment. Sustainable semiconductor manufacturing is a costly venture. Will customers pay more for a sustainable product? On the other hand, what will be the cost to company brands if they don’t invest in sustainability?
“We shouldn’t delude ourselves,” said Jones. “Somewhere along the line, tax benefits will be needed to pay for these technologies.”
Cutting to the chase, each panelist offered some pearls of wisdom to wrap up the panel. Jones noted that while Europe is doing a mediocre job with sustainability, it’s still leading the world and is reaping that reward as other parts of the world ramp up compliance efforts.
Otero Perez said that while using semiconductors can help improve our industry and others, our next steps must be sustainable, and not completely disruptive. She suggested finding ways to re-use the components we produce and find more sustainable end-of-life for the products we manufacture.
Champseix pointed out that climate change is a unique opportunity because it’s an international challenge, not regional like for instance, water. Its success requires global collaboration. He also said the industry is accountable and needs to be responsible role models.
“Overall, the semiconductor industry has the fantastic opportunity to make a better world, but it can also make it worse,” he said. “We need to change the behavior of people. Only by changing behavior can you change the unconsciousness of everyone. That is how we will make the world better.”
ISS Europe 2021 Happy Hour
I’m not one to miss a party, so I also attended the networking “happy hours”, my morning coffee in hand, and had some great conversations about all sorts of topics beyond just the day’s sessions (wine, beer, who’s had The Vaccine, lockdowns, babies on the way, and more). It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing this virtual thing for over a year. It was so nice catch up with friends like SEMI Europe’s Laith Altimime and Veronique Pequignant, Invest in Grenoble Alpes, and meet some new ones, like Martin Bailey, Heike Riel, Michael Reeve, Edwards; Dieter Rathei (aka Dr. Yield); Michael Arnold, PEER Group; and Thomas Leps, SYSTEMA. Here’s hoping we can all get together in person at SEMICON Europa. ~ FvT