Research Fab Microelectronics Germany (FMD)

Research Fab Microelectronics Germany (FMD)

Companies need perseverance for developments in the semiconductor segment: Numerous individual institutes have to be contracted. For this reason, the Research Fab Microelectronics Germany has now combined the expertise of different research institutes, including Fraunhofer FHR. Thanks to a number of new acquisitions, technologies can now be used that were not available before in Germany.sion characterization of antennas in complex radar systems. Bottom right: Finetech die placer FINEPLACER® pico during the processing of a high frequency printed circuit board.

© Fraunhofer FHR
Spherical near field antenna measuring facility of the companies NSI-MI and Telemeter for the high-precision characterization of antennas in complex radar systems. Bottom right: Finetech die placer FINEPLACER® pico during the processing of a high frequency printed circuit board.

When medium-sized businesses or start-ups need developments in the semiconductor segment, they are often faced with difficulties. After all, it is rare for a single research institute to cover all required competencies. For companies, this means the following: They have to contact multiple institutes and conclude many individual contracts – a tremendous effort. This is where the Research Fab Microelectronics Germany, FMD in short, comes in: Following the example of large microelectronics institutes abroad, it combines the German competencies, establishing a joint virtual structure. The cooperation is made up of eleven Fraunhofer Institutes of the Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics and the two Leibniz Institutes FBH and IHP. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) provided a total 350 million euros in funding for the creation of the FMD – in particular to close the technological gaps between the institutes and to introduce technologies which had not been available yet in Germany. Fraunhofer FHR primarily contributes its expertise in the areas of high frequency techniques, antenna measurement technology, and the production of circuit boards, radar modules, and high frequency structures.

Customers get to enjoy the direct benefits of this cooperation. They only have to contact one contact person, they receive a single contract, and they obtain the entire development chain from a single source. Let's take a radar chip as an example: For instance, the circuit design would be done by FHR, the production at IHP in Frankfurt/Oder or at Fraunhofer IAF in Freiburg, the packaging would be done at Fraunhofer IZM in Berlin, and finally, Fraunhofer FHR would have to get involved again for the radar and antenna inspection. The company would only negotiate with FMD for this entire chain.

Antenna Measurement Chamber for Complex Radar Systems

One of the key competencies Fraunhofer FHR contributes to FMD is antenna measurement technology. What are the properties of antennas for radar systems – for example, what are their directional characteristics? In the future, an antenna measurement chamber acquired within the scope of the FMD will allow for accurate examinations of individual and array antennas in the frequency range from 300 MHz to 50 GHz. The chamber itself has been completed. The range assessment is currently still in progress – that is the verification of the test area. This involves the measurement chamber being characterized according to specified criteria in order to be able to prove the quality of the measurements. As of late, even the smallest of antennas can be analyzed at Fraunhofer FHR using FMD infrastructure: For instance on-chip antennas, i.e. antennas with a size of one to two millimeters integrated into a chip.

Additive Manufacturing of High Frequency Circuit Boards

Another new acquisition addresses the additive manufacturing of high frequency structures: industrial-scale metal and plastic printers. Whereas the 3D printers we are familiar with from at home are only capable of producing small structures and low quantities, these printers make it possible to produce volumes of up to one cubic meter. Another special feature: The metal printer is also capable of printing waveguide structures. The plastic printer opens numerous new possibilities as well: for example printing antenna structures, lenses, and housings. The devices are to be set up in a facility specifically rented for this purpose in July of 2020.

Producing Printed Circuit Board Prototypes on Short Notice

Thanks to the FMD's investment resources, FHR was able to acquire a variety of devices, including a laser milling machine, placers and bonders, to produce printed circuit boards – quickly and on short notice. This enables Fraunhofer FHR to create subsystems – e. g. for signal generation – as well as entire systems, e. g. a complete radar system. The construction and integration technology equipment pool was expanded for this purpose. An anechoic chamber covering the range from eight GHz to one THz provides for the possibility of testing the manufactured subsystems. A climate test chamber complements the measurement possibilities, facilitating the examination of the systems under different temperatures and humidity.

Material Tests

How many radar beams does an object or material reflect and how many penetrate it? This can be examined at different angles of incidence and distances using the RCS measurement. In doing so, both monostatic measurements, in which an antenna emits the signal and also receives the reflected signal, as well as bistatic measurements, with separate transmitting and receiving antennas, are possible.