Microsystems Technology

Microsystems Technology is used everywhere – by suppliers of car parts, in medical technology and in the information and communication sectors. Funding for this key technology is thus an important part of the Federal Government's High-Tech Strategy.

© Thinkstock / camij

One careless movement and the laptop falls off the desk. A few years ago, this would have been the end of the hard drive and all data would have been irretrievably lost. Today, a sensor measures the movement and recognizes that the laptop is being tilted. The hard drive is switched off instantly and the data secured – thanks to the latest microsystems technology.

Virtually unnoticed, microsystems are taking over more and more sensitive tasks in our everyday lives. They help us to save energy and steer our cars smoothly when driving through road traffic, help doctors to perform complicated operations, and regulate our heating and air-conditioning systems. Innovative microsystems work as tiny invisible helpers in countless areas of our everyday lives.

Microsystems technology does exactly what its very name says: It develops entire systems on a micrometre scale – systems which are in constant communication with their environment. Microsystems must be able to do three things in particular: "feel", "evaluate" and "act". Classic microsystems technology thus distinguishes between sensor technology for signal reception and actuator technology which enables an active influence on the environment.

Microsystems Technology Ensures Intelligence

Common to all microsystems is the fact that different materials, components and technologies are linked together in a very small area. But modern microsystems are more than just the sum of their parts: The intelligent integration of the individual components to form more and more complex systems enables completely novel functions – leading to intelligent products which can make our lives safer, simpler and more comfortable.

Growth rates of up to 10 percent per year are expected to continue.

Driver assistance systems which can avoid obstacles independently and make automatic emergency stops in critical situations, air-conditioning systems which register when we leave our homes and adjust themselves accordingly: In the not too distant future, we will be finding more and more intelligent systems in our lives. The technological basis for this development: New, intelligent microsystems in our everyday world – also known as "smart systems".

The microsystems of the future will not only feel, evaluate and act; they will also make decisions with foresight and communicate with their surroundings. They will have an autodiagnosis function and will operate largely autonomously – characteristics which come very close to cognitive abilities. Whereas classical microsystems merely function according to a pre-programmed pattern, "smart systems" will show at least rudimentary signs of being able to "think", "understand" and "learn".

The key technology of microsystems technology is thus one of the most important drivers of innovation in general. It is the technology that makes intelligent products possible. Microsystems technology means progress with a system.

Funding Targets of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Microelectronics and nanoelectronics are key enabling technologies of central importance for the entire manufacturing industry. The Federal Research Ministry has launched its ICT 2020 research programme to encourage innovations which consolidate Germany’s technological leadership, ensure the country’s competitiveness, and make Germany a more attractive industrial location.

The funding framework for electronics research is aimed at:

  • Expanding enabling technologies for chip manufacturing such as chip design, lithography, 3-D integration and process technologies as well as researching novel materials
  • Facilitating the development of innovative mobility solutions by strengthening research on electronic components and systems for the cars of tomorrow
  • Using cutting-edge electronic components to tap into new applications, for example in power electronics
  • Promoting novel approaches to electronic systems, for example in the form of organic electronics or magnetic microsystems

We are focusing funding on the following fields of application where ICT is a major driver of innovation: automotive engineering, medicine, logistics, energy and mechanical as well as plant engineering (also against the backdrop of Industry 4.0). The goal is to support research and development to achieve our quality objectives, namely economic viability, safety, user-friendliness and resource efficiency. We also aim to bridge the gap between technologies and fields of application in order to expedite the translation of research findings into commercial successes.

Research funding provided under the “KMU-innovativ” programme plays a key role in safeguarding and expanding Germany’s drawing power as a high-tech location.

European Funding Programmes

Research collaborations across national borders play a vital part in successfully facing future challenges in the spheres of microelectronics and nanoelectronics. They are a key factor in ensuring international competitiveness already today by setting international standards which enable the participants to become leaders in the relevant market segments right from the start.

The Federal Research Ministry has been decisive in strengthening and expanding Europe’s semiconductor industry in past years by initiating European funding measures such as the EUREKA initiatives JESSI, MEDEA, MEDEA+, CATRENE and the European Nanoelectronics Initiative Advisory Council ENIAC.

Research funding under both the EUREKA programme PENTA (Pan European partnership in micro- and Nano-Technologies and Applications) and the ECSEL (Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership) Joint Undertaking are moving ahead on this path in order to continue to jointly shape and drive the development of those fields of application in nanoelectronics in Europe that are of strategic importance.