Select Committee on Science and Technology Second Report


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 Gilbert Declerck.


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 be anchored.


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.

    a.  Continuity of policy. The original IMEC concept had been developed in close collaboration with the Flemish Government, from which there had been a continuing commitment over many years. The Government had met the start-up costs in 1984 and had provided the great bulk of funding in the Institution's formative years. Direct government grant had now settled at what seemed the optimal value of 25% (annually, some euro30m or about 5% of the Government's budget for R&D). Funding levels were agreed for five year periods.

    b.  The managerial boards. IMEC had a three-tiered managerial structure:

  • the Board of Directors of 10 members: 3 from industry[118], 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

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