The government has approved an investment of 12.25 billion euros up to 2027 to boost the development of the chip industry.
In Spain, just over a hundred companies are dedicated to the design of these products, which are then manufactured mainly in Asian plants.
The president of the Spanish Semiconductor Industry Association welcomes the initiative to increase Spanish and European autonomy for these products.
“Semiconductors are essential, both for domestic devices and for the most complex industrial environments”. This is how Vice President Nadia Calviño highlighted the importance of these during the announcement, this Tuesday, of the PERTE Chip. The most ambitious strategic project of those financed with European funds, which will invest 12,250 million until 2027 in boosting the entire semiconductor value chain, from design to manufacturing, and which has been received almost with euphoria by the industry.
“Semiconductors are involved in all production processes and we have been seeing for more than a year how their scarcity impacts our lives and the economy. We cannot afford to depend on third countries for these products,” says Danny Moreno, president of the Spanish Semiconductor Industry Association (AESEMI) and head of the sector company Wiyo.
In Spain there are, according to this association created just six months ago, about 120 companies in the chip sector. All of them are what is known as fabless, manufacturers without factories, which are in charge of the research and design processes of these products, which are then manufactured, usually in plants located in Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, China or Japan.
“In Spain we are producing in all the communities. We invent, develop, test and design it with 3D tools that are compatible with the manufacturing plants (foundries), which are the ones that then melt the chip. The chip comes back, we process it, we integrate it and we commercialize it. In other words, we do all the stages, except for the foundry, because it is not yet possible to do so in Spain,” Moreno explains.
The government’s plan, which aims to take advantage of Spanish and European strength in R&D&I, design and machinery, and which seeks to contribute to the EU’s plan to double its semiconductor production capacity by 2030, which currently accounts for only 10% of the world’s total, is aimed at eliminating this shortfall.
Seven years to lead the market
The complexity of this technology, which is very expensive, means that the government’s project will serve to strengthen the ecosystem of Spanish companies and attract international companies, but it will take time to see the fruits.
“You have to bet between three and seven years. It doesn’t mean that the factory needs all that time to be operational, but the strong results will be seen in that time. And that is, if we have the support of the knowledge already existing in the market of globalized companies that wish to come to Spain. The companies that manufacture the machinery for these plants, such as the Dutch company ASML, have delivery times of between two and three years, to which must be added the time needed to assemble them, test them and create the clean rooms (spaces that are thousands of times more purified than an operating room). All this will take time, but if we don’t start now we will always be late,” says Moreno.
Chips for industry
Three-quarters of the government’s budgeted investment in the PERTE Chip, more than 9.3 billion, will go directly to building semiconductor manufacturing plants, both leading-edge (below 5 nanometers) and mid-range (above 5 nanometers).
“Most of the industry is now using mature technologies above 14 nanometers. They have been on the market for a long time and are the ones that supply the entire chain of industries: automotive, health, mobility, energy… The 5 nanometer, which is used only for processors and memories, are new technologies that require much more investment and are concentrated in two products: memories and processors, for smartphones and computers,” Moreno explains.
This head of the microprocessor industry considers that Spain’s strategy must be to meet the demands of the current market, which works with the most mature technology, and which will allow the industry to be autonomous, and to invest in new technologies to bring products to the market in the medium and long term.
“We have to focus on the plants in Spain to be be open to meet the designs of all companies that develop their chips,” he raises confident in the project that will boost the Spanish microelectronics and semiconductor sector, after the European Union’s commitment to return to the race of this technology with the European Chip Act presented in February.
“There are already many transnational companies that are designing in Spain. There is talent, we have the support of universities and research centers, which are fabulous and represent the real raw material for making developments. I am convinced that we are going to see good results.”