When Europe had leading-edge chip manufacturing technolog

In 1994, Jurgen Knorr, President of Siemens Semiconductors, co-architect of The Megaproject, the microelectronics collaboration between Siemens and Philips, and founding CEO of the two Pan-European microelectronics R&D programmes, JESSI and MEDEA, was feeling pretty chipper.

It was then ten years after the start of the Megaproject. “After more than ten years, European industry realises that microelectronics is a basic tool – a must for all industries” said Knorr at that time, “it took a long time, but now even the federal institutions appreciate that.”

With high volume half micron processes in full production 0.35 processes in pilot production and a 0.25 process under development via the Siemens/IBM/Toshiba alliance Knorr reckoned: “We are fit until the next millennium.”

It had been a long haul since Siemens and Philips decided back in 1983 to get together in The Megaproject to catch up with the rest of the world in chip technology. Having reached that point through a combination of EU and National Government subsidy tariff protection collaborative R&D and preferential procurement did Knorr see the need to change the support mechanisms for the European chip industry?

“Jessi is a must” replied Knorr, “we see some regions where the government supports microelectronics and some where they don’t and there are substantial differences in the consequences. If we don’t have the same kind of level of support as our competitors, our competitiveness will deteriorate.”

However Knorr saw a possible change of focus. “We should support not only microelectronics technology but projects which create added value to the European industry. The Bannemann Report recommended we should look at ten projects among them multimedia video-on-demand traffic guidance systems air traffic control road pricing and information highways – though in realising what is behind the information highways we are far ahead of the US.”

“Europe is very good at systems engineering and understands how to create solutions to problems – look at GSM where we are ahead of everyone else” says Knorr so our next emphasis should be on combining microelectronics providers and users – providing a meeting ground for development engineers and their customers.

Knorr does not see any merit in relying on the entrepreneur rather than government and big companies to stimulate high-tech industry. “Entrepreneurial activity can be seen in the emerging industries in the Far East but in Europe we have a higher life style – people spend a lot on homes and land whereas in the Far East they spend more on consumerism – the Walkman could not have been invented in Europe” replies Knorr but we have the best cars, the best machine tools, the best punch pressing machines, the best printing machines, office automation, telecommunications and aircraft.

“In the US a lot of the big projects have been done under National security programmes like DARPA” continued Knorr, “IBM, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing must be paid by government – there’s no one else to do it – a lot of R&D is paid by the government and can be used by the commercial market – a very clever idea.”

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