Imec Vice President Steve Beckers Interview at ChipEXPO-2018
November 7th, 2018 – NAUTECH together with imec – the world-leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies – took part in the 16th international exhibition of electronic components and equipment ChipEXPO-2018, which was held in Moscow from 17 to 19 October, 2018, in the Expocentre Fairgrounds in the pavilion “Forum”.
NAUTECH is the official representative of imec in Russia and the CIS countries. The technologies and services of NAUTECH and imec at ChipEXPO-2018 were shown on joint stand C22. Many visitors and exhibitors were listening to NAUTECH and imec presentations as part of the ChipEXPO-2018 business program.
During the exhibition Steve Beckers, vice president of imec and CEO of imec.IC-Link, the semiconductor manufacturing division of imec, visited NAUTECH and imec joint stand. Steve Beckers (on the photo below – on the left) kindly agreed to answer the questions of NAUTECH press service.
NAUTECH: What are the most used technologies today? How fast are the 16nm and 7nm coming along?
Steve Beckers: Strange enough, today in our customer base, we still see a lot of usage of older technology. Older technology for sensor node applications in the domain of IoT, for medical applications and for industrial applications. The reason is that, for those applications, the older technology is still good enough. Let’s take as an example a sensor interface chip. This chip contains an analog front-end connected to the sensor, an A/D transforming the sensor data into the digital domain. It is using a microprocessor, sometimes a DSP to process the data, often using advanced algorithms. To get the digital information out, often a radio, a USB, or other connectivity is used. Such a chip, when you would design it in 180nm technology, would result in a chip of 25 square millimeters. This implementation is a very inexpensive implementation. Because 180nm technology was top notching in 2000 and that technology is now nearly 18 years old. Typically, a new technology, when it is brought to the market, is sold at a premium price. In the first five years the price drops rapidly and then people think that the price erosion stops. But that’s not true. These older technologies continue to decrease in price at an average rate of 3 to 5% per year. Result is that those technologies have really become very inexpensive. The same story is true for 65nm, this same is true also for 40nm. These are basically the three technologies that we see today as being most used by our customer base.
Other applications like compute-intensive applications, like in security, like in cryptocurrency, like in blockchain, financial technologies – all those applications they cannot live with these older technologies, they need the highest level of compute power. Then we talk about using 16nm, or 12 nm. Recently also 7nm. So, we see the two sides, we still see the use of older technologies and at the same time we see the new technologies emerging. But in terms of number of new products, the newer technologies are smaller then what we see today for the older technologies.
NAUTECH: What breakthrough technologies imec plans to introduce soon for Russian market?
Steve Beckers: Imec is not developing technologies specifically for Russian market. Imec is developing technologies for the worldwide market and since Russia is a world player it also uses the same technologies as that are used in the other parts of the world.
But answering the question: “what type of technologies?”, imec has a very broad research offering in a large variety of application domains. If I can just name a few, I think about radar. Imec is pioneered several years ago the first 79 GHz radar in pure CMOS 28nm TSMC technology, and today we are building the 140 GHz radar. The 79 GHz is used for automotive and industrial applications. I a car the 79GHz complements other sensors, looking to teh environment around teh car. The 140GHz is more used inside the car, to measure vital body signals like heart rate and respiration rate, giving information about the passengers in the car. The 140GHz is also used for medical applications. Lidar is another example where imec is investing a lot in research using silicon photonics and advanced beamforming techniques.
Imec is traditionally strong in developments in the field of healthcare and medical technology domain, electrocardiogram, electroencephalogram, lots of sensors, and also the chips that interface to the sensor data, analog front ends. The differentiating factor in that domain is that imec has brought technology to the market that produces medical quality data. This is data that has been clinically validated, data that doctors can trust. This is completely different from the data that you gather from gadget devices that are on the market today.
The domains of smart cities is another domain where imec is investing a lot, not only on the level of the chips, but also on the level of the applications, creating software models to monitor the smart city, the digital twins as we call it.
A lot of research is also being done in the domain of aerospace, we have radiation hardened libraries. There is a lot of research done in security – very few people realize that one of the most used security standards in every cell phone today has been developed by imec many years ago. Today we have a lot of security novelties, e.g. PUF that works as a digital fingerprint. So far, I mentioned healthcare, medical, automotive, smart cities. Another domain where we see a lot of traction, is Industry 4.0, making the factories completely autonomous, making every single machine in the factory connected and bringing artificial intelligence to the machines. More particularly related to artificial intelligence and machine learning, imec is developing neuromorphic chips and researching quantum computing.
Looking at the next 10 years to come, I think Russian economy and the Russian industry can benefit a lot from those developments and what NAUTECH and imec are doing together, is bringing these technologies to the market level, with industry relevant solutions. NAUTECH and imec work together to help the Russian industry, by creating a bridge between the research on one side and the implementation in real products that go to the market, to industry and to consumers. That is what we are standing for together.
NAUTECH: Why have imec decided to come to ChipEXPO for the second time?
Steve Beckers: ChipExpo is a very interesting exhibition and conference, it is not the largest in the world, it is of a reasonable size and it brings together a lot of actors of the industry, especially out of the local industry. There are also international companies here and the mix of the two makes it a great gathering place for networking, for spotting new business opportunities, for bringing also the knowledge about imec to the Russian market. So, I think it is a good value place and we are pleased, also for the second time, with the setup and with the attendance level.
NAUTECH: Do you think it is important to have an exclusive partner like NAUTECH on the Russian market?
Steve Beckers: I think it is very important because the Russian market is a special market. There is more government influence than in Western Europe, and NAUTECH has special knowledge of this Russian market, to deal with that. NAUTECH, as our local partner, is for us important to better understand the Russian market, to better understand how to do business here. It also helps to create confidence for the Russian customers. I think it’s a great help for us.
Steve Beckers accumulates 36 years of experience in the semiconductor industry. He started his career as ASIC Design Engineer in Alcatel, and subsequently occupied Management positions in Product Engineering and Quality, in Alcatel Microelectronics. In 1995, Steve joined Alcatel Headquarters, and in 2002 he became part of STMicroelectronics where he developed the ST Connectivity Products Business. Since 2013, Steve is Vice President at imec.
Imec is the world-leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies. The combination of our widely acclaimed leadership in microchip technology and profound software and ICT expertise is what makes us unique. By leveraging our world-class infrastructure and local and global ecosystem of partners across a multitude of industries, we create groundbreaking innovation in application domains such as healthcare, smart cities and mobility, logistics and manufacturing, energy and education.
As a trusted partner for companies, start-ups and universities we bring together close to 3,500 brilliant minds from over 70 nationalities. Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium and has distributed R&D groups at a number of Flemish universities, in the Netherlands, Taiwan, USA, China, and offices in India and Japan.
NAUTECH is a leading ASIC services aggregator in Russian and CIS markets. Established in 2008 NAUTECH today provides a full set of services for design and manufacturing of IC on foreign foundries, and supplies licenses for a broad range of IP blocks for ASIC and SoC design in Russia and CIS countries. NAUTECH offers semiconductor IP licensing from more than 30 active IP vendors, pre/after-sales tech support, ASIC foundry services including ASIC prototyping and contract manufacturing at TSMC and other leading foundries, IC packaging services, verification and testing, technology consulting, patent creation, technology licensing and transfer. NAUTECH is the official representative of imec IC-link in Russia, the largest TSMC VCA in Europe.
NAUTECH team is an international group of technical support engineers, lawyers, experts in export-import operations and protection of intellectual property, managers to interact with vendors, suppliers and foreign foundries. NAUTECH has offices in Moscow, Silicon Valley and UK. NAUTECH team in Moscow office provides technical consulting for every stage of customer’s project, including pre- and after-sales support, assistance in selection and integration of IP blocks in the SoC, manufacturing, packaging and testing of integrated circuits.