Section 3

European Microsystems Programs

Definition of MEMS/Microsystems in Europe

Before launching into a review of activities in Europe it is useful to define the technology field(s) to be surveyed. Different organizations from different geographical backgrounds and companies/institutions with different application/product focus have varying interpretations of what is covered by terms such as MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems), micro-systems and and micro-machines.

In the United States the predominant view of MEMS is one of integrated miniaturized devices and systems which are fabricated using processes compatible with those used in semiconductor integrated circuit production and which combine sensing with computation and actuation. The typical sizes envisioned are on the order of microns to hundred of microns.

In Japan the primary emphasis is on microscopic machines and mechanical robots of slightly larger sizes which combine and execute various functions. Micromachines are considered a natural evolution of mechatronics towards millimeter and sub-millimeter type scales.

Both of these interpretations are somewhat narrowly focused on extensions of existing areas of expertise in these respective communities. In Europe, on the other hand, the trend is to a much broader interpretation of the microsystems field. Whereas in the United States the focus is on quasi-two-dimensional semiconductor -based devices and processes and in Japan three-dimensional mechanical machines prevail, Europe tends to include any device or system involving micron-size structures with novel functionality hitherto impossible as part and parcel of the new arena of microsystems.

In particular, two of the specific definitions encountered in the European community are the following:

“A microsystem is an intelligent miniaturized system comprising sensing, processing and/or actuating functions. These would normally combine two or more of the following: electrical, mechanical, optical, chemical, biological, magnetic, or other properties, integrated onto a single or multichip hybrid.”

“Microstructure products have structures in the micron range and have their technical function provided by the shape of the microstructure. Microsystems combine several microcomponents, optimized as an entire system, to provide one or several specific functions, in many cases including microelectronics.”1

As evidenced by these definitions, microsystems in Europe do not necessarily include integrated circuits, nor are they always monolithically integrated. As the remainder of this report will show, the European technical community envisions numerous types and variety of devices and applications for future microsystems in Europe, making them a pervasive influence in many product sectors ranging from automotive and domestic electronics to the medical and pharmaceutical sector.

Programs at the European Level

EC Fourth Framework Program

Within the European Commission funded Fourth Framework program (1995-98), research and development in microsystems fell within both the Esprit (Information Technology) and Brite Euram (Industrial and Materials Technologies) programs. The total budget allocated to microsystems-related work over the four years of the Fourth Framework has been estimated at 100 million ECU. Guidelines for Fourth Framework projects called for consortial teaming with strong cross-border elements, a multidisciplinary approach wherever appropriate, and a precompetitive longer-term focus.

A good example of a Fourth Framework program in the microsystems domain is the Esprit project STARS, which focused on the development of an angular rate sensor. Participating firms and research institutes were SensoNor, LETI, Fraunhofer ISIT, and Sextant Avionique. In the MOEMS (micro-optical-electro-mechanical systems) domain, the Fourth Framework has funded the development of photodetectors based on InP (MOEMS Project), and an opto-chemical system for blood analysis (QUANTUM Project). Other typical development efforts funded through Esprit have included an implantable liver micropump (IMALP Project), air and food sensing (PARFUM Project), and air pollution monitoring (SMOG Project).

Brite-Euram has funded development work in inkjet printing, among other topics.

Europractice

In addition to discrete R&D projects in the microsystems domain, the EC funded infrastructure building work during the period of the Fourth Framework, with Europractice forming the primary example.

Europractice, the creation of which was advocated by NEXUS, has two main components: the Competence Centers and the Manufacturing Clusters.

Europractice Competence Centers: The Competence Centers support design centers that are capable of providing design services and applications support to industry and academia within a particular application domain. The Competence Centers do not have their own fabrication capabilities, but rather select the most appropriate fabrication process for a given task. Each of the six European Competence Centers is operated by one or more research institutes. The six are:

According to Gaetan Menozzi, Chairman of the NEXUS Executive Board, the primary objectives of the Competence Centers are to “help potential customers find out how to use microsystems; to support customers in the design, development, manufacturing, selection, and integration of the microsystem in their product; to organize the demand in order to achieve critical mass in each application area; and to provide application specific skills directly related to the application area addressed.”

In addition to application-specific design work and choice of fabrication technology, the Competence Centers conduct more general feasibility studies and technology assessments.

Europractice Manufacturing Clusters: The Manufacturing Clusters complement the Competence Centers by providing access to microelectronics fabrication capabilities that employ a spectrum of different technologies. The Manufacturing Clusters fabricate ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) and multichip modules (MCMs) as well as MEMS and microsystems. Each cluster is composed of a group of industry facilities, with both a geographical focus and shared fabrication capability. Currently, there are five Manufacturing Clusters in the Europractice network, as follows:

Europractice Coordination and Training: Some central coordination services for Europractice are provided by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK; however, individual service providers in the Manufacturing Clusters interact directly with customers and promote their own capabilities. In addition to the design and fabrication of MEMS and MST, Europractice includes a Training and Best Practices Service (TBPS) which prepares users to make informed choices among available technology options.

NEXUS: (A User/Supplier/Researcher Forum)

NEXUS (Network of Excellence in Multifunctional Microsystems) is an organization established through European Community funding (currently, under the EC’s DG XIII) to promote research, development and commercialization of MEMS, MOEMS, and microsystem technologies (MST). Launched in 1992 under the ESPRIT program, NEXUS activities include roadmapping, market forecasting, technology benchmarking, coordination of standards, and dissemination of information on MEMS and microsystems through workshops, user-supplier clubs, and various MEMS-focused publications, such as MST News. NEXUS’ goal is to promote microsystem technology acceptance by European industry in order to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness, stimulate cooperation within the European MST community by providing appropriate infrastructure, and establish a common European MST representation. There has been a recent shift from basic academic research to industry-driven applications. These application domains include: consumer electronics, automotive components, medical and environmental applications, telecommunications, domotics (home control systems), and process control. NEXUS works to promote “take-up” of MST technology—the development and commercialization of promising MEMS and microsystems technologies by European industry.

The evolution of NEXUS over the years since 1992, from an organization with a strong academic orientation to one driven primarily by industry objectives is schematically illustrated in Fig. 3.1.

The NEXUS community consists of over 93 companies and 158 institutes in 31 countries. NEXUS is particularly strong in Germany, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Italy, and Spain, as a result of a high number of MST players and activities in these countries. Beginning in 1994, NEXUSEAST extended participation in the NEXUS network to include 13 laboratories and companies in Eastern Europe. NEXUSPAN, initiated in early 1995, extends access further to include Russia and other portions of the former Soviet Union, including Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Lithunia, and Ukraine. The primary coordinator for this extension of NEXUS to the east is Jan Suski of Schlumberger.

The task and management structure of NEXUS has been arranged with a central NEXUS office responsible for information dissemination, network management, and to serve as a common contact point. The NEXUS office receives its directives from both an Executive Board and a NEXUS Board. These controlling Boards, in turn, provide direction to task forces, and an Academic Working Group. The task forces provide market analysis of MST, benchmarking information, maintain and promote international relations (with the U.S. and Japan, mainly), as well as foster relations with Eastern Europe. The Academic Working Group provides MST training and addresses education issues, develops long term perspectives for MST, and provides a consultancy for the Boards.

A diagram illustrating the organizational structure of NEXUS appears in Fig. 1.1 on page 11.


Fig. 3.1. The evolution of NEXUS from 1992-2000, with emphasis on geographi- cal expansion to include Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union, and on the transition from an academic to more industrially oriented profile (Source: NEXUS).

The Academic Working Group also provides input to the MEMS User/Supplier Clubs (USC). These Clubs are designed to bring together users, suppliers and developers of microsystems, collect and survey market information, help identify MST needs for specific application areas, define technological interfaces and standardization needs, and define requirements on equipment for MST fabrication. These User/Supplier Clubs are divided into Automotive, Medical/Environment, Instrumentation/Process Control, Peripherals/Multimedia, and Aerospace/Geophysics domains.

NEXUS uses the Web for information dissemination, in the form of European MST Online (EMSTO - http://www.emsto.com), as well as by reporting MST news articles and events in various publications.

Well-organized and well-integrated across universities, research facilities, industry, and various governmental branches of the EC, NEXUS struck our team as being particularly effective in coordinating private-sector companies through their User/Supplier Clubs. These clubs allow companies working in the same domain to focus their efforts and avoid duplication of effort by giving them a forum to meet and discuss issues of common interest. The MEMS community in Europe utilizes NEXUS User/Supplier Clubs as a common link and a way to circulate valuable information. Of the companies our team visited, all had NEXUS affiliation of some sort, and we were struck by the number of individuals who were acquainted with each other from their User/Supplier Clubs and through various NEXUS-sponsored activities. They also were highly aware of the work that other companies were doing in MEMS. The only area in which information seems to be guarded with a high amount of secrecy is in the highly-competitive automotive domain. Otherwise, information and expertise appears to be shared within a cooperative, congenial atmosphere.

Eureka Programs

Eureka, like Esprit and BRITE-EURAM, is a transnational program that supports consortial R&D in electronics and information technology, among other fields. Unlike the EC-funded programs, however, financial support for Eureka projects comes from national governments and private sector participants. Proposed projects are evaluated for inclusion in the Eureka framework by a panel of National Contact Points (NCP).

An example of a project in microsystems technology which received Eureka sponsorship would be Euroenviron-Oxyms, which has investigated the monitoring of oxygen levels in waste and surface water via MEMS-based sensors.

Until recently, while Eureka included microsystems work in its overall scope of work, it did not include a component focused on MST in particular. The Eurimus project (see below) fills that role.

Eurimus

Eurimus (Eureka Industrial Initiative for Microsystems) is a strategic initiative promoted by NEXUS within the framework of Eureka. The objective of Eurimus is to accelerate the commercialization and increase the market share of European industries in products and systems that employ key components that derive from microsystems technologies. Eurimus addresses both product and process technologies for MST, and seeks to counteract, in the microsystems realm, the general perception that European industrial R&D programs have supported good scientific and technological work without substantial commercial impact.

Eurimus has been structured as a five-year program which began in 1998. An Industrial Core Group composed of major players in electronics and microsystems in Europe — including Bosch, Daimler Benz, Sextant Avionique, Philips, Schlumberger, Siemens, SGS Thomson, CSEM, CEA-LETI, Fraunhofer ISIT, and Sintef — constitutes the Eurimus Board. The total budget of Eurimus is estimated at 400 million ECU over five years, with 50 percent of funding coming from private industry and 50 percent from national government organizations in Europe. Over the five-year span of the program, 100-150 individual R&D projects will be selected for funding.

EC Fifth Framework

The European Commission’s Fifth Framework Program, successor to the Fourth Framework Program described earlier in this section, runs officially from 1998 to 2002. However, the first call for proposals for the Fifth Framework closed in June 1999, with initial awards to be announced in most cases in September 1999, so the initial round of funding under the Fifth Framework is just coming into place.

Because the Fifth Framework funding structure is organized primarily by technology application domains, rather than technology regimes, it is difficult to derive a solid figure for Fifth Framework funding of MEMS and MST at this juncture. The four major Fifth Framework application domains are:

It is clear that most funding for MEMS and MST will be awarded through what is called Key Action 4 (Essential Technologies and Infrastructures) of the Creation of a User-Friendly Information Society (Theme 2, listed above). The overall funding for Theme 2 is 3.6 billion ECU over four years; the funding for Essential Technologies and Infrastructures is 1.36 billion ECU over the same four-year period.

The Essential Technologies and Infrastructures Key Action is further broken down into six major research areas:

Of these seven research areas, projects in MEMS and MST will be funded largely through areas F6 and F7. The funding targets of these two areas are described as follows by the European Community:

“Peripherals, sub-systems and microsystems: Work will address the need for advanced intelligent (computing and communications) network peripherals which can have multiple functionality yet remain user-friendly. Work on sub-systems will cover the building blocks of information processing and communications systems and networks. Work on intelligent microsystems will, in this context, cover miniaturised systems comprising sensing and/or actuating with processing functions, and normally combining two or more of electrical, mechanical, optical, chemical, organic, biological, magnetic or other properties, integrated onto a single chip or a multichip hybrid.

Microelectronics: Work will address materials, equipment, processes, design and test methodologies and tools which enable the development of electronic components, their packaging, interconnection and application. The approach will be system-oriented and application-driven, and will aim at reinforcing strengths and exploiting technological opportunities drawing on appropriate microelectronic technology solutions best filling generic application requirements.” [Source: CORDIS WWW site– www.cordis.lu].

These descriptions do not clarify the question of what level of funding the Fifth Framework will provide to MEMS and MST research over the coming four years. However, the wording does indicate that MEMS and microsystems will be targeted research domains. If we hypothesize that the overall funding total of 1.36 billion ECU for Essential Technologies and Infrastructures is spread approximately equally over the seven research areas, and that about half of the funding for areas F6 and F7 is allocated to MEMS/MST, then the total EC funding for MEMS and MST-related projects over four years would be on the order of 195 million ECU over four years. This would represent an increase over Fourth Framework funding, and be consistent with the priority MEMS/MST seems to be receiving in Europe at this time.

European National Programs

In addition to the pan-European funding programs of the European Commission and such trans-national structures as Eureka and Eurimus, several individual European nations have strong government-led programs in microsystems. Most analysts agree that the three strongest government programs are found in Germany, Switzerland, and France, but the UK, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries are also active.

Germany

Germany has conducted its BMBF program since 1991, with an end date of 2000. Annual government investment in microsystems research has been on the order of $60 million, with an additional $90 million committed over a five-year period to the related field of nanotechnology. Between 1994 and 1997, a total of 134 projects have been funded under BMBF, with participation by 726 project-partner organizations (the average BMBF-funded project involves five or more partner organizations). While larger companies have participated in the program, the bulk of the funding has gone to firms with annual revenues of less than $50 million, as well as to German research institutes.

Estimates indicate that approximately 100 universities and 160 companies in Germany are currently involved in some aspect of microsystems research or commercialization. Leading fields include automotive, medical, environmental, communications, and chemical/medical applications of MEMS and microsystems. In related developments:

On balance, Germany has the strongest national commitment to MEMS and MST in Europe today.

France

In France, a national MST program is in place, running from 1993 to 2000. Annual funding is approximately $12 million, and some 130 projects have received funding to date. Estimates provided by the European Technology Information Program (ETIP) indicate that some 100 companies are now working in the microsystems arena, together with 25 universities and research institutes.

The French government is also making a major investment in MEMS and microsystems research through the national laboratory LETI in the CEA complex. While CEA overall is structured to support the research needs of the French military and nuclear power industry, most of LETI’s collaboration with the private-sector in France takes place with the electronics and optoelectronics industry. A LETI spin-off, Tronic, is providing access to fabrication capabilities developed at LETI.

Switzerland

The MINAST Program in Switzerland, which runs from 1996 to 1999, is funded at approximately $12 million per year. In 1996, MINAST funded 32 individual R&D projects. Estimates provided by VDI/VDE-IT indicate that some 15 universities and 80 companies are involved in microsystems research, with strong influence exercised by the Swiss watchmaking and precision mechanics sectors. Program management for the MINAST Program is provided through ETH Zurich.

CSEM, which operates more like a private-sector company than a research institute, nevertheless receives a proportion of its funding from the Swiss government and works to commercialize microsystems technology, sometimes through its own operations and sometimes by creating spin-offs.

A schematic provided by NEXUS that seeks to relate the EC-funded research and development programs to Eureka, Eurimus, and the nationally funded programs described immediately above appears as Fig. 3.2.


Fig. 3.2. Schematic depicting the relationship among NEXUS, Europractice, EC- funded R&D programs, Eureka, Eurimus, and nationally funded European programs in MEMS and MST (Source: NEXUS).


1 Market Analysis For Microsystems 1996-2002–A NEXUS Task Force Report, October 1998.


Published: January 2000; WTEC Hyper-Librarian