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Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics

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“HTA is a model for success which could be used elsewhere” – Interview with Dr. Anton Sauer

Dr. Anton Sauer was involved in setting up the Heterogeneous Technology Alliance (HTA) right from the start as a consultant on European affairs. He spoke to VμE about the current situation in research cooperation, challenges for Europe as a location to do business in microelectronics and the important role played by politics.


VμE: In March 2008, the Finnish research center VTT jointed HTA. A year later the partners founded the subsidiary 4-Labs. How is the cooperation going today?

Sauer: HTA was founded with the aim of offering industry a European research and manufacturing group within microsystems technology. In doing so we had sectors made up of a lot of small and mediumsized companies in mind, such as environmental technology, medical technology and automobile electronics. What usually marks these companies out is that they do not carry out their own research and can thus benefit greatly from the results of a cooperation such as HTA. I think that HTA today is on the right path – this has been shown not only by the positive feedback from the European Commission, but also from the governments of the countries involved. Founding 4-Labs this year was the next step towards bringing the know-how possessed by the four partners more aggressively to the marketplace. Professor Gerhäuser from Fraunhofer VμE, in particular, was a strong driving force behind this decision. I think it was a good idea. Of course, this year 4-Labs was faced with the economic crisis. All the same, we have received a lot of interesting offers and expect the first contracts by the end of the year.

VμE: Are there any plans to add more institutes to HTA in the future?

Sauer: The HTA board is certainly talking about it. At the moment we plan to make a success of HTA in its current make-up; the next step would then be to think about expanding it. I think that’s the right way. In the longer term I think we will expand – Tyndall in Ireland would be one potential partner, for example.

VμE: How do the European Union’s new member states in Eastern Europe fit into the picture?

Sauer: I noticed a fairly strong response from institutes and universities in Poland to a tender issued this year. I can certainly imagine that HTA could find interesting cooperation partners in Eastern European countries, but I think that will take a while yet. Ultimately, Brussels has to take the initiative here by offering these “new” countries the necessary financial support for research activities.

VμE: We are familiar with the political problem whereby each state stresses the necessity of having a strong Europe, but then acts out of national interest in day-today business. Does this happen in research too, and, if so, how do the HTA partners deal with it?

Sauer: From the very beginning, we were careful to avoid conflicts of interest of this kind. Each institute involved will remain the first point of contact for queries in its own country, but it can also access the knowhow of the other partners where needed. If, for example, a customer in Germany has requirements which cannot be met by the Fraunhofer institutes, the VμE business office has other options open to it, for example by calling on CSEM, LETI or VTT. I think that’s a very good solution, as it ensures that no partner “muscles in” on another’s home turf. In the case of 4-Labs, this works a bit differently. The statutory arrangement is that the company only operates in countries where the HTA institutes are not represented.

VμE: By 2020, China will be the world’s number one location for microelectronics, according to the VDE trend report 2009. How should Europeans react to this challenge?

Sauer: It is certainly both necessary and a good idea to ensure that R&D in classic microelectronics and nanoelectronics remains in Europe. I can see HTA being a model for success which could be used elsewhere: A similar group of research institutes for microelectronics and nanoelectronics with Fraunhofer institutes based in Dresden, IMEC in Leuven and LETI in Grenoble could provide European industry with a lot of support and contribute to ensuring that manufacturing remains in Europe. We would, however, need Brussels and national governments to support this plan.

VμE: You regularly stress the important role played by political decision-makers. What do you hope politicians will do to create the optimum conditions for European cooperation in research?

Sauer: There have been, and still are, a couple of interesting larger projects in Europe within microelectronics. Starting with JESSI which was founded in 1989 this also includes MEDEA, MEDEA+ as well as CATRENE and ENIAC. They were all very successful measures, and I learned that one feature in particular was vital: the close cooperation between the ministries in Paris and Bonn. I have noticed that the intense exchange of ideas we experienced at the beginning of this millennium has been lacking in the last few years. I am pleading strongly for VμE in Germany and LETI in France to lobby the relevant agencies in Bonn and Paris to ensure that this close networking is strengthened again. That’s because I believe that the projects launched in the past by France and Germany benefited everyone involved, whether it be industry or research institutes.

VμE: Dr. Sauer, thank you very much for talking to us.

Dr. Sauer was talking to Tina Möbius.

About Anton Sauer:

Dr. Anton Sauer studied telecommunications at Munich Technical College (now TU Munich). He worked in various areas and positions at Siemens AG in Munich, Karlsruhe and Erlangen. In 1996, he left Siemens to work freelance as a consultant engineer. Dr. Sauer was the chairman of the JESSI Subprogramme Management Board Application (1989 – 1996) and vice-chairman of MEDEA (Microelectronics Development for European Applications) in Paris (1996 – 2000). In 2001, he was hired by Fraunhofer VμE as a consultant on European affairs.


Dr. Anton Sauer
Phone +49 89 89429590
Lohengrinstrasse 29
82110 Germering