REUTLINGEN, GERMANY: In the presence of the German Federal President, Prof. Dr. Horst Köhler, the new eight-inch semiconductor fab at the Bosch location in Reutlingen has gone into operation.
At a total cost of 600 million euros, the new facility, which will in future manufacture semicon-ductors and micromechanical components, is the largest single investment in the history of the Bosch Group.“Despite the economic crisis, we had the will, the strength, and the resources to see this project through,” said Franz Fehrenbach, the chairman of the Bosch board of management. This new facility is the company's response to the growing demand for ever more complex electronic components and systems in the automobile, buildings, and consumer goods such as cell phones, laptops, or game consoles.
“Examples such as semiconductor manufacturing in Reutlingen are impressive evidence of how well Baden-Württemberg's industry is prepared for the challenges of the future,” said Stefan Mappus, Minister-President of the State of Baden-Württemberg.
“Making engines even more economical, and making driving even safer, will only be feasible with an increasing level of technology, particularly electronics,” Fehrenbach said.
New electronic systems ensure lower fuel consumption, and thus also reduce emissions. Electricity is also steadily taking on increasing importance as power for auxiliary systems and, in the longer term, for the powertrain itself. This, in turn, requires electronic control of ever larger quantities of electrical power. The development of automobile-specific solutions for power electronics is one of the keys to further electrification of vehicles in the future.
The 1,200 engineers from Reutlingen are also working in this field. This immediate proximity of development and manufacturing, as well as proximity to highly innovative automakers, is one of the reasons Bosch also decided to manufacture eight-inch semiconductors at this location.
A building within a building
This manufacturing facility produces ICs and MEMS. The basic raw material is thin silicon disks, known as wafers, measuring eight inches in diameter. The production processes for these components are so complex that it takes an average of six weeks before a wafer has passed through all the production steps.
Very fine structures are deposited on the wafers, which means that the production processes can be performed only in cleanroom conditions. In order to achieve this, the air in the production area is subject to extremely intensive filtering. The cleanroom class 1 thus achieved is comparable to a maximum contamination equivalent to an apricot stone in Lake Erie. External vibrations, such as those from road traffic, must not reach the sensitive production machines.
For this reason, the outer shell of the production building has been built structurally separate from the actual core of the structure. The production facility is therefore a building within a building, equipped with particularly solid and thus very rigid foundations, walls, and intermediate floors. Once construction is completed, which is scheduled for 2016, up to a million of these chips, which are just a few millimeters in size, will be produced every day.
By this time, approximately 800 people will be employed at the wafer fab. “It is these associates who ensure that this is not just an investment, but also a success,” said Fehrenbach.
Small chips, vital functions
As in the neighboring Bosch semiconductor plant for six-inch wafers, which has already been in operation since 1995, the new wafer fab will produce semiconductors including, for example, application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), analog ICs, and high-performance components.
They are used, for example, in electronic control units for internal-combustion engines and transmissions, in the ESP electronic stability program, in airbag and driver assistance systems, in parking assist systems, or in night vision systems. In the future this will also include micro-electromechanical (MEMS) sensors, which are already capable of measuring the slightest movement. They play a very important role as sensors in the automotive industry.
Increasingly, however, the sensors from Reutlingen are conquering the field of consumer electronics – where they feature in products such as laptops and cell phones. For example, the tiny sensors control the on-screen display of cell phones – if the phone is held horizontally instead of upright, then the screen display also changes from portrait to landscape format.
In addition to the new semiconductor plant for eight-inch wafers, Bosch has also set up a new test center at its Reutlingen location. There the semiconductor circuits and MEMS sensors are finally tested and programmed according to their eventual applications. In this way, Bosch guarantees that the chips perform reliably and precisely, over their entire service life in automobiles, cell phones, and laptops.
Semiconductor market on course for recovery
The new semiconductor fab belongs to the Automotive Electronics division, which employs some 20,000 associates worldwide. Semiconductors have been manufactured at its Reutlingen headquarters since 1971.
Today, 6,700 men and women work at the location, manufacturing sensors, components, and electronic control units mainly for the automotive industry and increasingly also for the consumer goods industry. Following a 19.5 percent drop in sales last year, the Automotive Electronics division now expects sales to increase by at least 15 percent in 2010. “Nonetheless, it will take until 2012 before we regain the level of sales seen in 2007,” said Christoph Kübel, president of the Automotive Electronics division.
The division's performance reflects the development of the industry as a whole. Last year, the market for chips for the automotive industry was especially hard hit by the consequences of the economic crisis. Sales collapsed by 20 percent to 15.8 billion dollars, while the global semiconductor market shrank by just 8 percent to a total volume of 226.3 billion dollars. For this year, the industry expects to see a powerful recovery in all segments.
Federal President meets award-winners
For Federal President Köhler, the official opening of the new Reutlingen wafer fab was also a chance to visit Jiri Marek and Michael Offenburg from Bosch and Frank Melzer from Bosch Sensortec at their workplaces. He awarded this team the German Future Prize, Federal President's Award for Technology and Innovation, in 2008. They received this award for their pioneering work on MEMS technology and establishing it in the marketplace. Today, this technology is inextricably linked with automotive electronics and consumer electronics.
Last year, Bosch marketed some 220 million of these MEMS sensors, confirming its leading position in the global market. In this field, Bosch and Bosch Sensortec employ some 2,000 associates.