Activities of the GMe
Since its foundation in 1985, the GMe has recognized the following four focal points for its activities, which are listed here in chronological order:
These focal-point activities, and some comments on the impact of the GMe on Austrian industry, are presented in the following sections, in the order of their importance at the time of the expiration of the funding required for serious infrastructure activities.
Microelectronics Technology - Cleanrooms Vienna and Linz
Up to 2010, the sole task of the GMe was closely linked to the construction and the operation of technological installations, in particular, of the cleanroom laboratories in Vienna and Linz. In 1992, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research invited the GMe to act as a coordinator for the construction of the "Microstructure Center (Mikrostrukturzentrum - MISZ) Vienna" (since 2004 "Center for Micro- and Nanostructures (Zentrum für Mikro- und Nanostrukturen - ZMNS)") in Vienna. The MISZ Vienna finished construction by the end of 1993 and went into operation in June 1994. The coordination of the construction and negotiations with the vendors of laboratory equipment carried out by the GMe significantly contributed to a swift progress and saving of equipment expenses. The GMe then provided with its funds a vital part of the infrastructure operation costs for the cleanroom laboratories in Vienna and Linz, which was particularly important since the infrastructure expenses could neither be fully covered by the budget of the involved institutes, nor from projects.
The following university institutes were supported within this focal point activity:
One of the most rewarding potentials of microelectronics technology is related to applications in sensors: A large variety of possible sensors can be realized with comparatively modest technological resources, which makes them commercially quite interesting. During the nineties, the GMe supported broad sensor-related activities, mainly at the Vienna University of Technology, that led to sensors for medical, environmental, and technical applications, many of which could meanwhile be commercialized or have, at least, found commercial interest. Since 1998, budgetary constraints forced the GMe to abandon the support of microsensor research as such; there is a relatively modest support still for the high-tech technological infrastructure required for creating micro and nano-sensors.
The following university institute participated during the nineties in this focal point activity:
Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) - UNICHIP/TMOe
The ASIC-related activities of the GMe during the eighties and nineties were closely linked to the requirements of the Austrian industry. Based on groups at the Technical Universities Graz and Vienna, and using equipment and software which were purchased from GMe funding, two major actions were pursued: (1) ASIC projects for partners in the Austrian industry, ranging from feasibility studies to the design of ASICs that were commercially produced; and (2) the education and training of engineers in the area of ASIC design. Due to its close links to industrial requirements, UNICHIP played a leading role in Austria. The UNICHIP groups also had a long-standing tradition in European cooperation; many years before Austria joined the EU, they participated in the "EUROCHIP" European project, which was succeeded by the "EUROPRACTICE" program.
A larger operation named "Technologieverbund Mikroelektronik Österreich - TMOe" was launched in late 1996. The TMOe was essentially organized by the GMe and based on federal and local government funding backed by contributions of the Austrian industry. It extended the UNICHIP activities to all Austrian university institutes that were involved in ASIC design.
For budgetary reasons, the GMe had to discontinue its financial support for the TMOe program in 1998.
At the time of the termination of the support of the TMOe program by the GMe, the following university institutes partook in this focal point activity:
Ion Projection Lithography - IPL
Between 1985 and approximately 1995, the GMe pursued this project in close cooperation with the Viennese company IMS Nanofabrication AG, which has developed ion projection lithography to the stage of practical application. The GMe bought one of their first IPL units. Researchers at the Technical University Vienna, supported by the GMe, also contributed essentially with their scientific and technical work to the establishment of the IPL technology. This technology permits a reduction of the structure dimensions of microelectronic devices and micro-mechanical components well below 100 nm. The results stemming from the joint efforts of IMS and the GMe led to a world-wide interest in IPL. For the GMe, the IPL project has thus been successfully completed.
The Impact of the GMe on Austrian Industry
Although, as mentioned above, the funding provided by the GMe currently was exclusively restricted to university institutions, Austrian industrial enterprises benefitted from it indirectly. The mechanisms involved depend on the particular area of work of the institutes involved but are more or less present in all activities supported by the GMe:
- Education of qualified university graduates:
The financial contributions by the GMe essentially concentrated on micro- and nanoelectronics technology. Before the foundation of the GMe, this area was not exceedingly well represented in the official Austrian university curricula, and the technical infra-structure available for it was by far insufficient to permit extended teaching activities. In some cases, only the investments provided by the GMe made pertinent research and teaching possible altogether at Austrian universities and thus permitted the training of students in this high-technology area. This strategy of the GMe anticipated the European and Austrian efforts towards high-technology which have taken place in the past years: The demand of industry for university graduates with a background in microelectronics technology is still high; establishments that require personnel with such qualifications generally are highly competitive and innovative.
- Consulting and feasibility studies:
The high cost of modern technology frequently is an obstacle that is hard to overcome particularly by small and medium enterprises (SMEs), especially if there is no experience yet as to the actual cost and advantages of new processes. Therefore, the GMe advocates the use of its equipment for consulting, feasibility studies, and even the development of prototypes for industrial partners. Such activities were initially carried out particularly by the ASIC design groups, but meanwhile to a growing extent also in the micro- and nanotechnological area. In several cases, this support resulted in an inexpensive entry of Austrian SMEs into contemporary and competitive technologies.
- Graduate studies, information management:
The GMe has a long-standing tradition in supporting education and meetings related to microelectronics. After a series of seminars for an industrial audience that had been presented by the UNICHIP groups, the GMe started in 2001 increasingly addressing non-university groups, particularly Austrian industry, with a variety of meetings on other topics related to micro- and nanoelectronics. For example, the "GMe Forums" and "GMe Workshops", successors to the long-standing seminars "Grundlagen und Technologie elektronischer Bauelemente" and "Aktuelle Entwicklungen der Mikroelektronik", specially address an industrial audience. In the years past 2010, the focus of the GMe's activities shifted to the organisation of educational and academic events, depending on the available funds.