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.
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. BMBF (the Federal Ministry of Education and Research) 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 us 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 anechoic 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 anechoic 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 anechoic 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.
Producing printed circuit board prototypes at 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 radar systems. To test the subsystems, the printed circuit boards are measured right inside the circuits in the high-frequency range up to 500 GHz using an on-wafer probe station . The FMD equipment at Fraunhofer FHR allows these subsystems to be measured up to one terahertz for their intended use. The equipment used for this purpose includes an anechoic anechoic chamber, which allows the characterization of subsystems, objects and materials of eight gigahertz and upwards. For example, the expected radiation power of built-up radar front ends can be checked as a function of frequency. A climatic test chamber rounds off the measurement possibilities. This allows the systems to be examined under different temperatures and humidities. With the help of various types of software, the measuring devices can be specifically controlled using certain parameters such as wave form and noise and evaluated on the receiving side. This allows Fraunhofer FHR to simulate various application scenarios for the subsystems and test them directly for specific properties such as signal linearity.