[Avis d’expert] Is Intel’s project in Europe compliant with the European Chips Act?

Pat Gelsinger, CEO ofIntel, indicated to be ready to invest in Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain and Poland a total of 33 billion euros which could go to 80 billion over 10 years. What has been proposed by Intel?

On the chip manufacturing side

The Magdeburg plant (17 billion euros) envisaged in Germany, “will produce the most advanced semiconductors we are capable of buildingsays Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, or the sub-nanometer chips of the Angström era, and in particular the Intel 20A and Intel 18A models. That is to say 7nm engravings for the Intel 4 and 5nm for the Intel 20A. The additional investments announced in our production site in Ireland (12 billion) also aim to design such chips, which will be packaged in Italy. The European Chips Act has a clear focus on the most advanced chips, and we wanted to make sure we met those expectations. “. Their commissioning is scheduled for 2026, with 3,000 jobs at stake.

Note that Intel officials consider that the chips they manufacture have superior performance to those with fine engraving of the same size obtained with a different process, that of TSMC or of Samsung. Thus the 10 nm SuperFin node is thus renamed Intel 7 because it is considered as efficient as that produced with 7 nm engravings by TSMC. More importantly, remember that Intel has decided to outsource sub-10nm etching to TSMC. In this configuration, currently the manufacture of such chips is therefore always Asian or will be American because in the United States, there is the same problem and to solve it, a TSMC factory producing chips with an engraving fineness of 5 nm must be built in Phoenix, Arizona. This unit represents an investment of 12 billion dollars. Production is due to start in 2024 with a capacity of 20,000 300mm wafers per month. It will eventually employ nearly 2,000 people. Samsung has planned a similar $17 billion factory in Taylor, Texas.

Outsourcing to TSMC is explained by Intel’s lack of chip production capacity and not by the difficulties of developing an industrially profitable process. If this is the case, the Magdeburg plant and that of Ireland will actually be able to produce chips with engraving finenesses equivalent to 7 and 5 nm (Intel 4 and Intel 20A). “No question of giving European money to invest in mature technologies warned European Commissioner Thierry Breton.

Assembly and packaging side

Intel intends to work on the creation of a packaging and assembly site in Italy which would cost 4.5 billion euros, the details and the exact objectives are not known. Will this site make it possible in Europe to be competitive or at least to approach the production costs of the assembly of semiconductors in Asia? Intel apparently for the United States does not take the same direction since it was announced in December 2021 the creation of an assembly activity in Malaysia in Penang with an investment amounting to 6.3 billion dollars with the promise creation of more than 4,000 direct jobs.

On the product design side

Intel has announced the creation of its future European research and development center on the Saclay plateau (Essonne). With 1,000 jobs, including 450 by the end of 2024, this site will become Intel’s European headquarters for high-performance computing (HPC) design capabilities and artificial intelligence. It’s a very good thing, Intel is familiar with this kind of activity in France because it is not the first time that Intel has created a RetD center there. For example, there was one created in 2012 for mobile telephony in Sophia Antipolis at the time when competence on the subject was concentrated there and which counted up to 700 people, then which was closed in 2017. even in 2019 a center for the automobile was created which has since been taken over by Renault.

R&D investments are also planned in Spain and Poland.

In addition, Intel plans to establish its main European foundry design center in France, offering design services and design warranties to French, European and global industrial partners and customers through its Intel Foundry Services (IFS) entity. ” In the year since its inception, IFS has built a world-class team backed by cutting-edge Intel technologies. This R&D center will enable a collaborative approach to create a thriving open ecosystem to support our customers’ innovation pipeline“, indicated the CEO of Intel. Will the design rules of IFS be of the same nature, simpler or less simple than with those of other founders who do not use the Intel manufacturing process? ?

In conclusion, the Intel project brings advanced chip production capacities by 2026, which will therefore contribute to increasing the share of semiconductors manufactured in Europe in world production, the objective of the Chips Act being to double it to by 2030. The project therefore technically complies with the criteria of the Chips Act.

This does not exonerate for reasons of security and independence to have a second source of advanced chips. We must not be in the situation of using only chips based on technologies belonging to a country which could prevent the export of finished products containing such semiconductors. European manufacture will also be necessary for the FD-SOI sector, (FD-SOI, the technology designed by CEA-Leti, which is based on the addition of a thin layer of insulating silicon oxide which makes it possible to make transistors 25% faster and 30 to 40% less energy-consuming) sector specific to Europe and France thanks to the company Soitec. This second source can either be of European origin thanks to the technological developments provided for in the Chips Act by the Imec research center in Belgium and the CEA-Leti in France, or with a TSMC or Samsung unit. If we want such a solution before 2026, the TSMC/Samsung solution is currently the only one available and therefore the fastest to implement.

François Francis Bus, author of “At the time when fleas made their laws”

Expert opinions are published under the full responsibility of their authors and in no way engage the editorial staff of Usine Nouvelle.

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[Avis d’expert] Is Intel’s project in Europe compliant with the European Chips Act?

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