Industrial partnerships – collaboration pays off

Publish Date

08 MAY 2023


Kai Beckmann


The increasingly complex requirements of our world demand increasingly smart solutions. The greatest challenges cannot be met with one-off solutions. We need systemic approaches that provide a holistic view.

The increasingly complex requirements of our world demand increasingly smart solutions. The greatest challenges – including climate protection, efficient and resilient energy supply, smart building and mobility systems, and personalized medicine, to name just a few – cannot be met with one-off solutions. We need systemic approaches that provide a holistic view. No single industry sector, no single technology and no single company can do this alone. Collaboration and partnerships are the signs of our time. 

Data, technology convergence and collaboration

One of the answers to this challenge is the growing presence of digital technologies in all areas of life. Managing complex systems via data-driven technologies and self-learning applications enables a level of efficiency that was not possible with classic technologies. Sharing and using data jointly are a prerequisite for this. In this way, urban mobility can be controlled smoothly and sustainably if data from individual vehicles, public transport systems and the urban environment are combined with historical traffic volumes and current weather data and fed back into the system.

Highly complex relationships need to be regulated and much of this is still a long way off. But collaboration benefits everyone. After all, for technology suppliers too, combining the analysis of internal, external, historical, and current data will accelerate custom product design, customer benefits and manufacturing processes.

As digitalization progresses, data-driven applications – IoT (Internet of Things), AI (Artificial Intelligence), Cloud Computing, 5G, and Big Data – mesh together ever more seamlessly in development and manufacturing. In this era of fast-developing and converging technologies, broader collaboration is urgently needed across the entire production chain. This is the only way to optimally capitalize on the potential of jointly analyzed data for all participants.

This applies to the semiconductor industry in particular, the applications of which are deeply embedded in the technologies of all key industries. A prime example of this close cooperation is mobility, in which car makers are collaborating more and more closely with semiconductor companies to integrate new electronics and systems on the path to self-driving vehicles.

Increasingly complex chip design

Which components create which configuration with what interconnects while also optimizing power consumption? While a chess game has 10123 states, more complex chip design can present 10 to the power of 9,000 floorplanning options. Chip designer Synopsys even talks about high-end chips with 10 to the power of 90,000 possibilities. Only with the help of artificial intelligence and digital design methods can this kind of complexity be dealt with. And this becomes even more efficient if participants from the development and value chain collaborate.

Added to this is a further development that I’ve discussed in detail in my blog on heterogenous integration. To an increasing extent, all the required components will not be present on one chip, but rather on numerous, smaller, highly specialized chips. These will then be added smartly to a 3D chip. The transition from 2D to 3D opens up a great deal of new scope for optimization, making it possible to very efficiently combine and interconnect components from various manufacturers. Collaboration with providers is a prerequisite.

Collaboration in the vertical supply chain

And it’s not just development that’s complex. The manufacturing processes for cutting-edge products like these are also enormously complex. Materials are becoming increasingly sensitive. Many quality parameters can no longer be measured directly and can only be derived from large amounts of data. If deviations are not recognized, they can lead to extremely costly delays and defects in production. Sharing data and information along the supply chain can prevent this.

The data sharing platform Athinia shows how this can work. It makes it possible for device manufacturers and suppliers of materials and equipment to securely share data with one another, creating a vertically integrated production flow. The mutual and continuous information flow enables suppliers to recognize early how their specifications impact performance, quality and efficiency. Increased efficiency and the associated savings not only benefit the end customer but also save resources and help protect the environment.

Benefits for businesses and society - and for climate protection

The examples show that collaboration pays off. This applies across the entire value chain and is already widely practiced in the research space. It is widely known that the active strategic use of external knowledge has improved the potential for innovation. The full potential of the approach will only unfold if companies not only take in external knowledge but also open themselves up to and share their knowledge with external parties. Customers, suppliers, research institutes, students, and start-ups are all potential sources of ideas and must be integrated in order to fully tap into the innovative potential.

EMD Electronics is already doing this across the world. Throughout Europe, we work closely with research partners at the Interuniversity Microelectronics Center (IMEC) in Leuven, Belgium. In the United States, we are the only materials manufacturer to be a member of the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), in which 20 companies from the semiconductor industry carry out interdisciplinary research with more than 100 universities and government agencies.

The trend is heading towards collaboration in development and manufacturing. The buzzword “co-opetition”, i.e. cooperation in competition, illustrates this. Of course, barriers and misgivings are higher at first when working closely not only with customers, but also in broad consortia with potential competitors. Processes are getting more complex and it’s important to keep an eye on potential risks. Antitrust issues must be taken into account. Each individual participant may be worried about losing competitive advantages or having to share profits.

Reaching climate protection targets will also be supported by the trend toward cooperation. Here, too, more can be achieved by working together. At EMD Electronics, we have launched partnerships with leading players in our industry. Together with Micron, a leading provider of innovative memory and storage solutions, we are testing an alternative etching gas with a lower global warming potential. And together with Intel we are funding an academic research program to accelerate sustainable semiconductor manufacturing in Europe. The program will specifically leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to drive innovation in semiconductor manufacturing processes and technologies.

Collaboration must be seen as an opportunity, not a threat

This trend toward collaboration is ultimately unstoppable. A study by Winterberry Research from 2021 shows that 81% of managers in the United States either already collaborate with other organizations or intend to when it comes to sharing first-party data.

I’m convinced that what may at first seem like a threat is ultimately a source of major opportunities. Every company can become more innovative, customer-friendly and efficient through collaboration. Partnerships are not a zero-sum game. The pie will be bigger for everyone if we capitalize on the openness of the modern economy and handle co-opetition cleverly. Approaching the challenges of our times with powerful solutions not only benefits individual companies but also customers and society as a whole.

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