APPENDIX 7: VISIT TO IMEC
1. Many of those who gave evidence to the Inquiry
commended IMEC (the Inter-university Microelectronics Centre)
at Leuven in Belgium as an outstanding example of a successful
interdisciplinary microelectronics research centre. On 15 July
2002, the Sub-Committee visited IMEC to learn about the institution.
2. Members of the Sub-Committee making the visit
were Lord Wade of Chorlton (Chairman of the Sub-Committee), Lord
Methuen, Lord Mitchell, Lord Oxburgh, Lord Patel and Baroness
Wilcox. They were supported by the Sub-Committee's Clerk (Mr Roger
Morgan), the Select Committee's Specialist Assistant (Dr Adam
Heathfield) and Lucy Joyce of the British Embassy. This team was
welcomed to IMEC by its President and Chief Executive, Professor
3. Professor Marc Van Rossum presented an overview
of IMEC and its work. The Centre had been established in 1984
as part of the Flemish Government's wider programme for strengthening
the regional microelectronics industry as traditional industries
declined. The Government's initial investment had been euro62m,
and the institution had opened with 150 staff.
4. IMEC was now the largest independent microelectronics
research centre in Europe. It had 870 staff on the payroll (about
half of whom were on permanent contracts), drawn from a wide range
of nationalities, 110 PhD students and 270 industrial residents.
Its annual budget was some euro120m, of which 75% was earned from
industry or EU research contracts which typically lasted 3-4 years.
The remaining 25% was met by Government grant, explicitly linked
to IMEC's remit of performing R&D, ahead of industrial needs
by 3-10 years, in microelectronics, nanotechnology, design methods
and technologies for ICT systems.
5. The Centre saw the impending limits of Moore's
Law scaling more as the maturation of the technology (which was
being funded by the market) rather than its end. While the shrinking
of transistors might stop, CMOS technology would not only continue
but also retain enormous potential for new applications. Many
of those applications were likely to relate to the development
of ambient computing. That would increasingly involve wireless
networking, for which it would be essential to have global standards.
If and when new technologies came on stream, it seemed likely
that CMOS technology would remain the backbone of most microprocessing
and also be the platform on which those new technologies would
6. However, the principal purpose of the visit
was not the technology, but the managerial and institutional arrangements
that had led to IMEC's success as a centre of excellence in microelectronics
R&D. The discussion that began with Professor Van Rossum continued
when the group was joined by Professor Declerck; three Vice Presidents
from the Management Committee, Mr Eric Daenen (Human Resources),
Dr Luc Van den Hove (Silicon Process Technology) and Mr André
Vinck (Budget and Finance); and Associate Vice President Professor
Roger De Keersmaecker. It was noted that the principal success
factors were the following.
- the Board of Directors of 10 members: 3 from
4 from Flemish universities and 2 independent members appointed
by the Flemish Government together with two non-voting
advisers from the Flemish Government;
- the Management Committee of 10 people from IMEC,
chaired by the President; and
- the Scientific Advisory Board of 10 members:
6 from Europe, 2 from the US and 2 from Japan.
This division of responsibilities meant that
each tier could be optimally constituted for its tasks.
c. Focus on programmes. Rather than project-based
work, the longer-term and wider-ranging more generic programmes
enabled a variety of different partners to get involved, and made
it possible to adapt the research to rapid developments in microelectronics.
d. A wide reach of partnerships. Rather
than having an established pool of member organisations, partners
for each programme were assembled from around the world,. This
facilitated studies at the convergence of different technological
disciplines which is where the most fertile areas for
innovation were found. Boundaries within universities often made
such widely interdisciplinary studies effectively impossible.
e. Industrial Affiliation Programmes (IAPs).
While IMEC's longer-term blue-skies research normally involved
university partners, a significant part of its activity was more
D than R i.e. dealing with technologies that had not only
shown potential for growth, but also had started to show real
increases in their use or market penetration. Research teams for
the IAPs pursuing such issues were typically a mix of IMEC staff
and people from the partner companies. Results from the main research
was always shared between all participants, although provision
could also be made for confidential supplementary research.
f. Spin-offs. IMEC's close involvement
with industry through IAPs meant that most developments found
their way to market through those companies. There had, however,
been some spun-off enterprises. IMEC's main contribution to these
was the IP for which it typically took a 20-25% stake in the company.
Given the limited venture capital market for high-tech products
in the region, IMEC had started its own incubation fund, and would
consider investing up to euro200,000 in a start-up company.
g. The workforce. The balance between
visionary academics and output-focused industry people was vital,
as was the right mix and turnover of employees. IMEC had a different
balance from that found in most universities. The importance getting
the right workforce was recognised by the status given to Human
Resources, the Head of which was a member of the Management Committee.
7. In conclusion, it was noted that an institution
like IMEC took a long time to establish. To succeed, it needed
to be world-class in what it did and, in at least some
respects, to the best in the world. While it would seem difficult
to establish a successful duplicate institution in the United
Kingdom, many of the factors that had led to IMEC's success could
be relevant in setting up other technology centres.
8. Members joined the Chairman in thanking Professor
Declerck and his colleagues for a most useful and interesting
visit, and in wishing IMEC continuing success.
118 The Chairman, elected by the Board, had always
been one of the industry representatives. Back