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  • Published on 05 Jun 2013
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In a fascinating and informal conversation, Jan Lohstroh (ARTEMIS-IA), Marcel Annegarn (AENEAS) and Wolfgang Gessner (EPoSS) swapped views and opinions on the initiative of the European Commission to arrive at a joint strategy in the field of Electronic Components and Systems. Food for thought and plenty of nutritious insight.

The European Council proposed an initiative to establish a new Public Private Partnership for Electronic Components and Systems with the aim of creating critical mass and bringing together the best minds in an essentially multi-disciplinary field. How can this aim be best achieved?

Jan: If you look at projects, you already see people from the different areas collaborating and cooperating, so it is a logical step to bring the organisations under one umbrella to ensure that the best available expertise from each area is available for every project.

Marcel: Yes, it’s about early identification of our strengths and about positioning Europe in such a way to make our industry strong and competitive. What you have to realise is that the scope of the projects is constantly expanding due to the complexity of the products and increasing integration occurring throughout the value chain. We need to bring together the best minds and achieve critical mass. Politically, too. If industry properly aligns with public authorities in a true partnership, it will become possible to create the context for Europe to compete against Asia and the US, amongst others.


Wolfgang: The new Public Private Partnership for Electronic Components and Systems will have three major advantages compared to the present situation: it will enhance the coordination of industry’s R&D&I efforts, it will strengthen industry positions by forming a strong group that will act with a concerted approach, and it will lead to efficiency gains in management by putting three programmes under one administrative roof: nanoelectronics, embedded systems and smart systems.

The initiative aims at a positioning along the innovation chain closer to product manufacturing to help European industry close the gap between research and innovation. What concrete measures will enable this to happen?

Jan: The European Commission acknowledges that Europe has always excelled in R&D but lagged behind in terms of implementation and innovation. Horizon 2020, the successor to FP7, sets out to address this deficiency by now including funding on innovation and thereby getting R&D closer to the market and boosting the chances of successful products. The new joint undertaking will encourage large-scale innovation pilot projects. Once again, the contributions of the best minds from the different areas will be central to the success of such projects.

Marcel: We must remember that the target is to create wealth and jobs in Europe, and to do that you need a healthy industry. To improve the health of the industry, a continuum in innovation is required, starting with fundamental research and ending with the market introduction of a new product.  In the recent past, the in-between aspect of pilot lines and pilot projects was neglected.

Jan: A good analogy to make here is the concept car. It’s not always something that actually goes into production but it is a finished product that contains all the special features you want to demonstrate in a similar way that a pilot project is a demonstration of what is feasible.

Marcel: Or, in a more classical sense, an advanced manufacturing facility that enables you to make a small series run. Both are appropriate instruments. At the same time, fundamental research also needs attention and steering by the Industry. For instance, semiconductors are getting smaller and smaller and smaller. But where does it stop? What comes after this? This is a fundamental research question that requires a paradigm shift in thinking and the answer may shape the future of the industry.

Jan: And universities with their ‘free minds’ can sometimes come up with solutions that industry is unable to find. This may be the case with generating safety and security features that are completely reliable – error-free systems that cannot be hacked, for example.


Talking about the innovation chain and overcoming the gap between research and product manufacturing means, of course, addressing R&D issues of higher technology readiness. At the same time, we have to be aware that higher technology readiness levels can only be achieved if an adequate basis is created through the preceding research steps. It is therefore indispensable that industrial relevance is established as the guiding principle at all TR levels.

In working towards a global level playing field for the industry concerned and in making the European Union an attractive place for investment and high-quality/high-value added jobs, who will be affected (Industrial, RTO and Academic stakeholders, Member States and Regions), how will they be affected and how should they respond?

Marcel: The semiconductor industry in Europe recently proposed a partnership to the European Public Authorities. From the industrial side, the intention was expressed to invest some 100 billion euros until 2020 in R&D addressing TRL levels 2-8. The Public Authorities have been invited to contribute not only in terms of funding (7 billion euros has been proposed) but also in terms of political, educational, fiscal and legislative support. We expect them to help create an attractive environment in Europe for our industry in order to boost our continent’s attractiveness.

Jan: Looking at Embedded Systems in Europe, the industry is in a stronger position. But it is important for us to have a strong semiconductor industry in Europe because we are then less dependent on sources from outside Europe for the hardware.

Marcel: There are specific reasons why the hardware industry is lagging behind. Investment levels are very much higher than for the software industry so shareholders look to where they can get the best return on their investments – and Europe was not one of those environments. Taiwan, China, Singapore and even the US, on the other hand, are actively creating an attractive environment to invest. The result is industry withdrawal from Europe. This is a trend we need to reverse and this is our main goal for the proposed partnership with Public Authorities.

Wolfgang: The European Smart Systems industry is still very competitive in global terms and it possesses in Europe nearly all the necessary technologies and disciplines. It is characterised by high added value and a differentiated spectrum of a highly-skilled workforce, by innovative companies with more than 800,000 employees, and by efficient public research infrastructures. In a series of product segments – from driver assistance systems through security devices and components for medical equipment – European industry is still the global leader. However, other world regions are catching up, not least because governments are increasing their efforts to support. The new JTI should be considered a very important answer in ensuring European competitiveness in global terms.

Jan: And it is not just a matter of the industry but public authorities are also responsible for creating, for their regions, boundary conditions that are at least at international level for their industry to flourish; so to create a level playing field for the European industry.

Europe is the home for several excellent academic laboratories and Research and Technology Organisations (RTOs), each of which covers rather broad domains of expertise with certain overlap and limited coordination. To what extent can a joint strategy for electronic components and systems resolve this situation?

Jan: We do see, for instance, at brokerage events industry coming up with technical issues they cannot solve and looking to academic and research partners to help solve them while universities generate bright ideas and seek contact with industry to look at possible applications. This kind of collaboration and cooperation within a project is becoming more common, not just on a national but also on a pan-European scale.

Marcel: A recent initiative, called ENI2, sees industry and universities getting together on long-term programmes. A subsequent step could be the sharing of investments – R&D is expensive. My expectations of this initiative are high. Universities are one of our real strengths in Europe. Their scientific excellence is something we need to leverage.

Wolfgang: Broadness and overlap, which partly result from competition, are not per se a disadvantage. RTOs play a crucial role as technology service providers for industry and by that contribute significantly to European competitiveness. Their involvement in the new JTI will help them to even better understand industry requirements and to stay tuned to them.

In just a few sentences, describe your greatest hopes and fears for the future.

Marcel: Europe is a wonderful place with such cultural diversity, a continent that is very environmentally-conscious, strong in the field of energy efficiency. If we can devote our software and hardware industry to solving such major societal challenges, then we can create a further boost. With a large proportion of elderly people, we are in an excellent position to develop ambient assisted living and medical technology. But we are hampered by the diversity of laws and legislation, so we do need politicians to help us out in that respect. There are ample opportunities, so let’s not hold back.

Jan: I agree. We do have a wonderful continent with huge potential. We also have great education. But we do need to boost our entrepreneurial spirit and, of course, interest in technology among younger people. And we still have to deal with fragmentation that should not be a logical consequence of our great diversity.

Wolfgang: Global competition is a competition of systems wherein governmental policy plays a decisive role. First and foremost, it is a policy issue to provide appropriate conditions for keeping and attracting industry by offering favourable framework conditions for markets, by improving infrastructures – also in research by developing the educational system, by attracting skilled people and by an appropriate technology policy. I believe that Europe still has the basis and ability in the long run to be a leading world region in many aspects. The new JTI is an important contribution in this direction.