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Opinion

Finns cover all bases in the semiconductor industry

Vaisala is one of the well-known Finnish companies operating in the semiconductor industry. Pictured is the company’s R&D room in Vantaa.

Credits: : Vaisala

The semiconductor industry plays a crucial role in digital development as has become evident during the current global chip shortage. Kari Leino, senior advisor at Business Finland, sees that the situation poses significant opportunities for Finnish expertise in the field, which ranges from sensors and photonics to quantum computing and design.

Finland’s Open EU Foundry reaches production volumes. This is hopefully headline news in 2027 as the new proposed EU Chips Act and the underlying Chips for Europe Initiative aim to quadruple semiconductor manufacturing on the continent. This is both a significant challenge for the whole European semiconductor industry and a great opportunity for the Finnish semiconductor sector.

The act and initiative have been formed to tackle the current global chip shortage, which has seriously damaged the European manufacturing industry. There is no digital without chips, and neither are there chips without electronics and photonics. And since the world is mainly analogic, there is also a constantly growing need for chips that join the digital and analogue worlds together: AD/DA converters, sensors, imaging chips, photon sources and detectors, lasers, RF and quantum chips, and thousands of other chips that are not processors or memories. 

Luckily for Finland, we have leading expertise across all these areas. Furthermore, our strengths aren’t limited to sensors, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and photonic and mobile communication components but also cover the design of such devices and systems. These factors, combined with speciality wafer-producing capability and a strong ALD sector, make Finland a country that has the non-digital part of everything digital at its fingertips.

Vaisala is one of the well-known Finnish companies operating in the semiconductor industry. Pictured is the company’s R&D room in Vantaa. Image: Vaisala

Let’s take the mobile communication industry as an example. It has traditionally been one of the strongholds of the Finnish national economy. While expertise in RF chip and antenna design continues to be the firm basis of this industry, now also SOC (system-on-chip) technology and circuit design have become important.

Then there is the current hot topic, quantum technology. Finland’s long-time commitment – since the ’70s – to low-temperature and quantum physics has given the country a great position in quantum computing. Quantum processors, dilution refrigerators, post-quantum cryptography and quantum algorithms are good examples of the Finnish quantum ecosystem.

A less well-known area is MEMS. They are often very accurate sensors for different phenomena and can also contain actuators for Fabry-Perót interferometers, micro mirrors, ultrasound and many other uses. This part of the Finnish microelectronics ecosystem covers the value chain from wafer fabrication to sensors and systems. 

In photonics, Finnish expertise covers areas from photonic materials to applications, from black silicon to lasers and from single photon systems to advanced LIDARs. Why is this important? Because photonics plays a key role in many sensing and communication applications but has also become essential in quantum computing, autonomous driving and energy usage reduction. 

“There is no digital without chips, and neither are there chips without electronics and photonics.”

Finally, even the most advanced technologies need design to turn them into products. The Finnish capability in semiconductor and firmware design hasn’t gone unnoticed by internationally leading companies in the fields. This is demonstrated by companies like Mediatek, Nordic Semiconductors, Sony Altair, Intel and LG all doing research and development in Finland. Not bad for a small Nordic country. 

My conclusion? The Finnish semiconductor ecosystem has all the ingredients to become an even more significant player in the rising European semiconductor industry. And it will happen sooner than 2027. 

Kari Leino
Senior advisor, Business Finland
24.08.2022