Opinion: Money's not the problem for Europe's semiconductor rebuild

December 09, 2020 //By Peter Clarke
Opinion: Money's not the problem for Europe's semiconductor rebuild
Is €145 billion (about US$175 billion) enough to recreate a continental semiconductor ecosystem that can make leading-edge (2nm?) processors by 2025? Politicians from 17 countries in Europe think it is and also that spending the money in this way is a vital strategy.

But money alone is not enough. There needs to be cultural change.

For once a European project is perhaps mentioning figures that are in the right 'ball park' (see Europe will try to rebuild semiconductor capability using pandemic recovery funds), although even that is debatable. And I can agree that rebuilding European semiconductor capability, after decades of watching it decline under global competition and globalization, would be of strategic significance.

First off we should not underestimate the task at hand. So let us compare the €145 billion (about US$175 billion) the joint-initiative has its eyes on, with what Samsung is planning to spend simply to catch up with TSMC at 3nm. 

According to reports, Samsung is planning to spend US$116 billion.

That's one company budgeting almost as much as a continent and Samsung is starting from 7nm manufacturing with 5nm prepared but a little behind TSMC in terms of deployment. Meanwhile Europe has more or less let go the art of making digital circuits in advanced processes.

And then there are the 101 other strategic good causes that have their eyes on the same money, which is the "digital transformation" part of the European Recovery and Resilience fund. So it can be seen that while that money is an exceptionally large amount, even if it was all devoted simply to progressing semiconductor capability it would barely be enough. And what about EDA capability and packaging?

That said, leadership, or at least autonomy, in semiconductors is definitely desirable. The question is how best to achieve it.

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