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Robert Bosch GmbH opened a 1 billion euro ($1.2 billion) semiconductor chip factory that gradually should help alleviate supply constraints and herald broader efforts to make Europe less dependent on imports from Asia or the U.S.
The first chips manufactured at the plant near Dresden, Germany, will be used in electric tools next month, and output for auto parts has been accelerated by three months to September, Bosch said June 7 ahead of the site’s opening ceremony. Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend remotely.
“There is no quick fix as ramping up production takes time,” Bosch board member Harald Kroeger said. “But the new factory certainly helps free up other capacity. Every chip is a good chip.”
Workers in the digital sub-fab area at the Bosch semiconductor plant in Dresden. (Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg News)
Chip supply bottlenecks already had started disrupting manufacturing across business sectors when a fire at a Japanese factory and winter storms in Texas exacerbated shortages early this year. The woes have affected producers of electronics, vehicles and other goods, and exposed the fragility of global supply chains. The European Union is particularly vulnerable and has set a goal to produce at least 20% of the world’s supply on a value basis by the end of the decade.
“If a big bloc like the EU is not in a position to produce microchips, I don’t feel comfortable about that,” Merkel said during a virtual speech last month to a conference hosted by German research organizations. “If you are a car nation, it is not really good if you cannot produce the main component.”
Germany’s federal economy ministry provided about 140 million euros of support to Bosch’s factory as part of the Important Project of Common European Interest program.
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Bosch’s Dresden factory will supply customers worldwide, Kroeger said. The closely held German engineering giant expects global demand for semiconductors to rise 11% this year to a market volume of more than 400 billion euros.
“It’s extremely important for Europe to create a counterbalance” to the currently dominant position of Asian chipmakers, Kroeger said, because semiconductor components run critical functions in cars. Sophisticated driver-assistance systems, infotainment features and electric powertrains are expected to proliferate in the coming years.
Adding capacity for chips or ramping up output of existing factories is complex and time consuming. Three years after a groundbreaking ceremony, Bosch’s highly automated Dresden factory has about 250 workers and eventually will have a staff of 700. The site covers about 14 soccer fields and can churn out 300-millimeter silicon substrate wafers with structural widths of up to 65 nanometers.
Bosch already makes 150- and 200-millimeter wafers at a factory in Reutlingen, outside Stuttgart. It will invest about 50 million euros to expand the site’s clean-room facilities for 200-millimeter wafers in coming months, Kroeger said.
— With assistance from Arne Delfs.
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