14 July 2022
Bosch investing €3bn in semiconductor business by 2026
As part of the ‘Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI)’ funding program on Microelectronics and Communications Technology, Robert Bosch GmbH of Reutlingen, Germany plans to invest another €3bn in its semiconductor division by 2026. “Microelectronics is the future and is vital to the success of all areas of Bosch business,” says Dr Stefan Hartung, chairman of the Bosch board of management, at the Bosch Tech Day 2022 in Dresden.
One of the projects Bosch plans to fund is the construction of two new development centers – in Reutlingen and Dresden – at a combined cost of over €170m. In addition, the firm will spend €250m over the coming year on the creation of an extra 3000m2 of cleanroom space at its wafer fab in Dresden. “We’re gearing up for continued growth in demand for semiconductors,” Hartung says.
Promoting microelectronics to increase Europe’s competitiveness
Within the framework of the European Chips Act, the European Union (EU) and German federal government are providing additional funding to develop a robust ecosystem for the European microelectronics industry. The objective is to double Europe’s slice of global semiconductor production from 10% to 20% by the end of the decade. The newly launched IPCEI on Microelectronics and Communication Technology is intended primarily to promote research and innovation. “Europe can and must capitalize on its own strengths in the semiconductor industry,” Hartung says. “More than ever, the goal must be to produce chips for the specific needs of European industry. And that means not only chips at the bottom end of the nanoscale.” Electronic components used in the electro-mobility industry, for example, require process sizes of 40-200nm. This is exactly what the Bosch wafer fabs are designed for.
Expansion of 300mm chip production in Dresden
The new investment in microelectronics also opens up new areas of innovation for Bosch. New fields of innovation at Bosch include systems-on-a-chip, such as the radar sensors a vehicle uses to perform 360 degree scans of its surroundings during automated driving. Bosch will now be looking to enhance such components, making them smaller, smarter, and also cheaper to produce. The firm is also working to further modify its own micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) specifically for the consumer goods industry. One of the things company researchers are currently using this technology to develop is a new projection module that is so small it can be built into the temple of a pair of smartglasses. “We also plan to manufacture our MEMS sensors on 300mm wafers,” Hartung says. “Production is scheduled to start in 2026. Our new wafer fab gives us the opportunity to scale production.”
Big demand for SiC chips from Reutlingen
A further focal point, at Bosch’s Reutlingen plant since the end of 2021, has been mass-producing silicon carbide (SiC) chips, as used in the power electronics required for electric and hybrid vehicles (HEVs), where they have already helped to boost operating ranges by up to 6%. On the back of annual market growth rates of 30% or more, demand for SiC chips remains high, meaning full order books for Bosch.
In a bid to make these power electronics more affordable and more efficient, Bosch is also exploring the use of other types of chips. “We’re also looking into the development of chips based on gallium nitride for electro-mobility applications,” Hartung says. “These chips are already found in laptop and smartphone chargers.”
Before they can be used in vehicles, they will have to become more robust and able to withstand substantially higher voltages of up to 1200V. “Challenges like these are all part of the job for Bosch engineers,” says Hartung. “Our strength is that we’ve been familiar with microelectronics for a long time – and we know our way around cars just as well.”
Bosch expanding semiconductor manufacturing capacity
Bosch has made several investments in its semiconductor business over the past few years, including the wafer fab in Dresden, which opened in June 2021. At €1bn, it is the single biggest investment in the company’s history.
The semiconductor center in Reutlingen is also being systematically expanded. Between now and 2025, Bosch is investing about €400m in expanding manufacturing capacity and converting existing factory space into new cleanroom space. This includes the construction of a new extension in Reutlingen, which will create an additional 3600m2 of cleanroom space. In total, cleanroom space in Reutlingen is set to grow from around 35,000m2 at present to over 44,000m2 by the end of 2025.