“I have to open this conference by saying something obvious: we live in very uncertain times.”
So began Roberto Viola of the European Commission in his introduction to EFECS 2021, the international forum on Europe’s digital future. Uncertain times shaped the conference itself, which again took place online from 23-25 November. Fortunately, this did little to deter our committed members, who helped make EFECS a success via 13 sessions, 61 project presentations and a daily marketplace for networking. The theme this year? ‘Our Digital Future: For a green and competitive Europe’.
The pool of professionals
Jointly organised by industry associations AENEAS, EPoSS and Inside, EFECS 2021 tapped into an ecosystem with over 700 members in the realm of Electronic Components and Systems. It also arrived at a fitting time. As Bosch’s Stefan Finkbeiner emphasised in his keynote speech, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated both the growing demand for ECS and the instability of our value chains, which often depend on parties elsewhere in the world. International competition was thus a major theme of the conference, as reflected in sessions on trends in manufacturing and design and the impact of the ECS value chain on Europe.
Perhaps most pressing to our global resilience is the low chip production in Europe, accounting for less than 10% of global manufacturing. A crucial takeaway of EFECS was therefore the need to look ahead to emerging areas like AI and advanced computing and to use our current assets – such as imec’s world-leading research or ST and Infineon’s specialised production sites – as a springboard to these. Professor Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli put it best in his introduction to the first panel discussion: “Rather than building massive manufacturing lines, we should extend our partnerships with Korea, Taiwan and the US. We want to increase the pool of professionals which can design integrated circuits but, most importantly, can put together applications, software and hardware. This is the key to the industry of the future.”
As clean as the dirtiest link
Of course, competitiveness should go hand in hand with sustainability, the other theme echoed in numerous talks at EFECS. “We are now in a transition to green technologies,” noted Infineon’s Wolfgang Dettmann in the strategic discussion on future value chains in mobility and energy. “Everyone wants to convert. We have to prepare capacity and we have the niche skills to supply this, something we can only do together. All application areas have to address the Green Deal targets and the use of green ECS.”
In both this discussion and the later session on the transition to green technologies, efficiency and renewables were highlighted as the most important means through which we can meet the target of 55% fewer CO2 emissions by 2030. Wind energy, for instance, is seeing an annual installation capacity increase of over 80%, while more efficient drives are achieving ever-growing market penetration. “We need to look at this not as local optimisation of our sector but as the full greening of the value chain. The chain is only as clean as the dirtiest link,” explained ECSEL Executive Director Bert De Colvenaer. “We should all be ambassadors for greening and sell what we, as a sector and community, are doing to help the Green Deal to be implemented.”
Celebrating the community
In addition to these serious topics, EFECS is also about celebrating the spirit of collaboration that has already enabled so many breakthroughs. This was most apparent during the Innovation Awards for projects which have exceeded expectations and achieved excellent results. Taking home the ECSEL Award was Productive4.0, Europe’s largest research project in the field of digital industry and the source of a user platform to promote the digital networking of manufacturing companies, production machines and projects. INNODERM, meanwhile, was the winner of the Horizon 2020 Award and has developed a novel optoacoustic device for non-invasive diagnostics for skin cancer and other dermatological conditions. Last but not least, SERENE-IoT was granted the PENTA Award for tackling chronic disease and aging populations while keeping costs affordable. Project leader Armand Castillejo likely summed up the feelings of participants across many projects as he accepted the award: “For me, it was really worthwhile to meet such dedicated and trustworthy consortia. It was more than a project; a fantastic experience for all partners.”
As small to medium enterprises make up almost half of the total members of the industry associations, EFECS also sought greater recognition of their needs and capacities in a session on whether calls are SME-friendly. Overall, the results are positive: although SMEs are often unable to shape projects or afford significant R&D work, they can consider system integration or complementary topics needed for the entire ecosystem. Or, as Markus Pistauer of CISC Semiconductor put it, “SMEs can be the speedboats among the large ships that generate the main direction.”
The future of funding
As in previous years, EFECS 2021 was about laying foundations for a positive future in times of enormous change. “Every year, we are trying to align the industry vision with the Commission and it has been a very positive process,” said incoming Inside Secretary General Paolo Azzoni in his overview of the 2022 ECS-SRIA. Updates include a complete restructuring of the long-term vision and an extension of the scope with technologies such as open-source hardware and integrated photonics. As for Key Digital Technologies, ECSEL Head of Programmes Yves Gigase announced that the first call will take place in mid-December and the second in May-June 2022. This joint undertaking aims to take the best from ECSEL while improving on it between now and 2027.
Within the same session, Nadja Rohrbach Xecs Director at AENEAS took the opportunity to introduce the new Eureka Cluster Xecs, a funding instrument which will accelerate industrial innovation with a specific focus on sustainability. “I would advise any partner who is interested in joining such a project to use the opportunity of events like EFECS,” she concluded. “This is an open community, not a closed club. Whether you’re a start-up, SME or large company, newcomers are always welcome.” We look forward to welcoming old and new members at the Brokerage event in January and building further of the fruitful collaboration of EFECS 2021.