The situation of international instability and the resulting economic repercussions have brought the problem of Europe’s energy dependence on Russia to general attention. The issue of gas supplies, however, is only the tip of the iceberg and there are many other sectors, from critical minerals to cybersecurity, in which the EU needs to achieve strategic autonomy as soon as possible. These certainly include microelectronics, which plays a key role in the development of the industry and the growth of the competitiveness of sectors such as the biomedical, automotive, renewable energy sectors and more generally everything related to the transition 4.0.
The Electronic Based Systems (EBS) sector is attracting ever greater investments and, through the “Chips Act”, the European Commission has approved the allocation of 43 billion euros for public and private investments aimed at the production of microchips, also essential for the creation of technological objects for daily use, such as smartphones and household appliances. The goal is to go from 10% to 20% of the world market by 2030, thus reducing the dependence of the Old Continent on Asia and carving out a leading role in the field of semiconductors. This game has been played for some time in Carinthia, considered a true virtuous model to be inspired by for the microelectronics industry.
In fact, in the southernmost land of Austria, a significant boost for economic recovery – certified in 2021 by + 5.8% of GDP compared to the previous year, a figure well above the national average (4.8%) – has come precisely from the Electronic Based Systems sector. The presence of technology parks with advanced facilities, universities with high quality degree and training courses and technical institutes of excellence make this region, nestled between mountains and alpine lakes, an attractive international hub for companies in the microelectronics sector.
Joanneum Research, engaged in the study of robots and their interaction with humans, the Fraunhofer KI4LIFE, specialized in digitalization and artificial intelligence, and the branch office of Silicon Austria Labs stand out among the main cutting-edge research centers. in Villach, which focuses its activities on technologies for the electronic systems of the future. Just in Villach, last June, a 1,000 m2 clean room was inaugurated, the largest in Austria: an investment of 17 million euros to offer companies a high-level research laboratory in the field of micro and nano electronics, where you can develop small-scale products.
Aware of how important it is to network and create profitable synergies between public and private, the neighboring lands of Carinthia and Styria then created the Silicon Alps Electronic Cluster, strategic partnership that brings together actors from industry, research, academia and institutions for a joint development of the two regions in the field of Electronic Based Systems. Such an efficient and evolved reality has pushed leading international companies operating in the EBS sector, such as Infineon, Intel, Flex, CISC Semiconductor or LAM Research, to create solid foundations in the southernmost land of Austria.
Infineon, for example, produces 8.7 billion chips a year in Carinthia and invests 13% of its turnover in research and development. In September 2021, it inaugurated a high-tech factory for 300 millimeters wafers in Villach to strengthen its leadership in power electronics, a technology capable of contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions and to combat climate change. On the path towards strategic autonomy to be achieved in the microelectronics sector, Europe can therefore look to Carinthia, already capable of offering a valuable contribution to the flattering results achieved by Austria (76.7 billion euros in annual turnover and 62,900 employees in the EBS sector), as a real reference model.