Europe and Bosch invest in semiconductors

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Semiconductors über alles: “They are the heart of innovation”, guarantees Stefan Hartung, CEO of Bosch, the German multinational leader in supplying the automotive industry. Which during the “Tech Day 2022” made it official that to increase production by 2026 it will invest another 3 billion euros, drawing in part from the funds allocated by the European Union, which at the beginning of the year launched a 30 billions.

“Microelectronics is the future”, adds the manager, who was rather buttoned up on the allocation of resources, however concentrated only on the German sites of Reutlingen and Dresden where, with 170 million euros, he intends to build two new development centers. Another quarter of a million will end up in Dresden for the creation of an additional 3,000 square meters of clean-room to expand the wafer factory inaugurated last year. 400 million are earmarked for Reutlingen. “We are preparing for the continued growth in demand for semiconductors,” says Hartung.

Bosch chips are already installed on half of the smartphones and, more generally, considering the entire components, there is practically no car in the world that does not mount at least one piece supplied by the Stuttgart multinational. Bosch has clarified two elements: that only part of the production will go to the automotive sector and that the difficulty in supplying components is destined to last over time, even beyond the current year, albeit in a differentiated way. “Not all semiconductors are the same – insists Hartung – and depending on the sector there will be excess availability or the shortage will continue”.

Despite being the smallest components in electronics, production times are very long: up to 50 weeks. The process is complex and, as shown by the “astronauts” who work in Dresden in a substantially aseptic environment harnessed as in an anti Covid ward, even a delicate one. For a single wafer – the “slice” of semiconductor material – 800 steps are required because the final result is what is called a “skyscraper”, that is an object made on 35 levels, each of which requires 25 processes. In Dresden, even if there is no concern for the raw materials for which Bosch has guaranteed long-term supplies, palladium and gold are used: the equivalent is 1.2 million every 3-6 months for the first and half a million every 6 months for the second. The company defines Saxony as the most modern factory in Europe: it has installed 150,000 sensors that generate 250 megabytes of data every second, the equivalent of 400 simultaneous high-definition movies from Netflix.

The Community objective of the IPCEI plan (Important Project of Common Europea Interest) is to make the continental industry less dependent on supplies from other countries by doubling local production, which should rise from 10 to 20% of share. “Europe can and must invest in the semiconductor sector,” Hartung warns. “Never before – he insists – the goal must be to produce the chips for the specific needs of the European industry. This means not just producing extremely small chips ”. It is no coincidence that Bosch has decided to focus on the 300 mm ones, the most requested by the automotive sector.

Among the semiconductors produced in Dresden there are those used for steering, for airbag sensors or for Abs and Esp systems, but also for power tools. Bosch had anticipated the times in 2017 when it had decided to invest in Dresden to manufacture semiconductors and today it focuses even more on research and innovation: if in 2021 it had spent 6.1 billion, equal to about 8% of revenues (78, 5 billion), this year there will be 7. Even Italy, where one of the design centers of the so-called MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical System) is located, could absorb part of the resources because, according to Bosch, investments do not concern only production and the equipment, but also the minds.

In the future of Bosch there are silicon carbide chips exploited mainly in power electronics for electric and hybrid vehicles and able to increase operating margins (up to 6% more). But the German multinational is also evaluating the gallium nitride option, also destined for electromobility. Widely used in computers and smartphone chargers, Bosch needs to develop them to be able to withstand much higher voltages, up to 1200 V.

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