We need to invest even more in microchip production, as it will be an opportunity worth billions.
Tuesday 26 April 2022
Feature article by DTU President Anders Bjarklev, President of Danish Metalworkers’ Union Claus Jensen, and CEO of the Confederation of Danish Industry Lars Sandahl Sørensen, published in the Danish daily Børsen on 12 April 2022.
It is clear how we depend globally on the free movement of supplies, and how easily or quickly supply can be haltered—as when a ship blocks the Suez Canal. For microchips in particular, supply chains have proven fragile. This is a major problem for Danish companies, because microchips are the cornerstone of the digital transformation and an indispensable part of many Danish products.
The EU has also become painfully aware of the importance of microchips in digital development. Failing supplies of microchips from Asia and the United States have stalled projects and caused entire industries to go into hibernation. That is why the European Commission has launched The European Chip Act, which aims to make Europe partially self-sufficient and more independent of chip production outside the EU. More microchip research and development must be built up and microchip factories must be built within the EU borders.
The effort will ensure a more stable microchip supply to Danish companies, but also strengthen the companies that take an active part in microchip development and design. Therefore, this is an effort that Denmark must take part in.
Danish position of strength
As a nation, we’ll probably never reach a mass production of chips such as the billions churned out by Samsung or TSMC, the world’s largest microchip maker. But we have a clear position of strength in the special development of prototypes for specialized tasks and, not least, in the know-how needed to develop tomorrow microchip. We must protect that position of strength.
Danish know-how of developing a pioneering microchip represents an important currency when it comes to reliability of supplies of the billions of chips needed in a digital society. We have something the others want, and that’s why they want to do business with us.
Through visionary efforts back in the 1990s and a public investment in facilities at the National Centre for Nanofabrication and Characterization (DTU Nanolab), we have research, innovation, and product development under one roof.
This has resulted in everything from microchips to control of Grundfos’ pump systems, sensors for diagnostic equipment in the healthcare system, or encrypted chips for defence cybersecurity. The users include research and start-up companies as well as companies such as NIL Technology, Lotus Microsystems, Ceko, and Microsoft.
A future NATO centre for research in quantum technology is planned on Danish soil, so under the auspices of NATO, the quantum chip of the future might be developed here? But it will require an expansion. Companies are queuing up to use the unique facilities in Denmark’s only large-scale cleanroom.
If capacity is not expanded, DTU’s unique infrastructure for chip production will become a bottleneck for the entire chip industry—and customers, expertise, and turnover will be oriented towards new partners abroad or even move jobs out of the country. This will result in an economic loss, as microchip production has already developed into an industry worth billions in Denmark with a steep upward trend. We must maintain this development by offering an infrastructure and a research and innovation environment for chip technology, IT, telecommunications, quantum technology, cybersecurity, etc.
The Danish government should—backed by a majority in the Danish Parliament,—ensure that we develop the production facilities we already have at DTU. The government should also work to ensure that Denmark can take the greatest possible part in the EU’s efforts in The European Chip Act, which allocates significant funds to the area. Otherwise, we risk that it is primarily the large EU countries with already established chip factories that win the largest share of the funds. And we can also secure Danish high-tech and skilled jobs in the future.
DTU has prepared a concrete project for a capacity expansion to meet the growing demand. The expansion of the National Centre for Nanofabrication and Characterization will strengthen Denmark’s business sector, competitiveness, and digitalization capacity, as well as contribute positively to the European microchip ecosystem.
A government investment will create business and job opportunities, economic growth, and export potential within a high-tech niche area of the Danish corporate sector. And the return on this investment will be many-fold.
DTU Nanolab can be seen as the Suez Canal of Danish microchip production. It is necessary to expand to prevent it from becoming a bottleneck for the increasing demand.
Theme on chip technology
Microchips have become a key technology in the digital society. Denmark needs strong research environments and large-scale cleanrooms for chip production in order to develop the nanochips and microchips of the future. Read DTU’s theme on chip technology.