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X-FAB Dresden: Interview with Rico Tillner, Managing Director

How does X-FAB Dresden view the location? What role does the Saxon microelectronics network play for the company? Where does joint location work end and competition begin? What conditions are absolutely necessary for future growth? Find out all this and much more in the interview with Rico Tillner.


But before that, let's take a quick look at X-FAB Dresden.

  • Date of opening: 1981
  • Number of production sites worldwide: 6
  • Size of the plant (area): 81,000 sqm (site)
  • Size of clean room(s): 3800 sqm (different clean room classes)
  • Produced structure sizes: 600 nm and 350 nm
  • Number of wafers produced per year: 120,000
  • Size of wafers: 8" (200 mm)
  • User industries (top 3): Automotive, Industrial, Medical
  • Number of employees: 540
  • Number of nationalities: 26
  • Share of women: 22 %
  • Skilled workers sought (top 5): Maintenance engineers, quality engineers, IT specialists, development engineers; trainees and BA students
  • Skills sought (Top 5): Personal responsibility, ability to work in a team, flexibility, hands-on mentality, systematic working style


© X-FAB Dresden GmbH & Co KG


Mr. Tillner, what is the importance of the Dresden site for the Group?

X-FAB produces at six different locations worldwide. Each location has its own technology portfolio. Of course, there are overlaps and redundancies for individual technologies, but no two locations are alike. Dresden is one of only two locations where our 350nm technology, which is very important for the automotive industry, is manufactured. In addition, the Dresden site is the only one within the X-FAB Group to develop gallium nitride technology together with our customers.

In which specific areas have investments been made since the opening and what was the total amount of these investments?

Due to its long history, the site has already experienced many changes. Production was started with 5-inch wafers and switched to 6-inch wafers in 2001. Since 2014, we have been manufacturing exclusively on 8-inch wafers. Regular investments have been made in the current production capacity in recent years, also with the help of funding projects such as IPCEI. Since the start of the switch to 8-inch wafers, more than 100 million euros have been invested. We will continue to invest in the modernization and expansion of the site.

For which applications does the site produce? What exactly can the chips produced do and in which sectors/industries are they used?

More than half of the chips produced in Dresden are used in the automotive industry. The applications are very diverse and range from vehicle control and level measurement to lighting and locking systems. Furthermore, we produce chips for medical technology, mostly in connection with our MEMS factories in Erfurt and Itzehoe. These circuits are used, for example, for infrared temperature measurement. Further applications are so-called lab-on-a-chip circuits, which can be used for the selection of cancer cells or for drug tests on living cells.

There are now five fabs, numerous supplier companies and research institutes as well as microelectronics-related software companies in Saxony. In which areas is the network particularly important for your company?

The network in Dresden plays a very important role for us. On the one hand, we benefit greatly from the short distances to many of our equipment manufacturers and suppliers. This helps us to react quickly in case of problems and enables on-site support without long travel times. Furthermore, there are very good partners within the network with whom we cooperate, for example in the field of automation and analytics.

Are there any concrete cooperation projects with other players at the site, and if so, which ones?

We regularly cooperate for example with various Fraunhofer institutes or other research institutions in the context of funded projects. We also cooperate with the Fraunhofer institutes in the area of development and production and make mutual use of the technical possibilities available in each case.

We are not the only ones concerned about the issue of skilled workers. The ICT sector in Saxony is currently growing by around 5,000 skilled workers per year, which, if growth remains constant, will be equivalent to more than 100,000 skilled workers in 2030. What role does direct proximity to other fabs play in the context of your skilled workers strategy? Does it make the location more attractive or the competition greater?

In the end, it is both. A location like Dresden with this concentration of different companies in the field of microelectronics is unique in Europe. This has an appeal beyond Saxony and leads to skilled workers coming to the region. But of course, competition also increases the competition for talent. But it goes without saying that competition for talent at the location also increases competition for talent. You have to face up to this competition. To do this, it is important to know your strengths and to use them. Every factory has its individual strengths and it is important to find exactly the skilled workers who are looking for them. Our factory is the smallest on the site. This allows us to have a very familiar working environment and flat hierarchies. We also offer our employees very flexible development opportunities based on their interests.

Intel is planning a so-called mega-fab in Magdeburg. What impact will this have on you in terms of supply chains, service providers, raw materials and also skilled workers?  

Microelectronics is a very complex industry that relies on very many different and highly specialized raw materials (wafers, chemicals, gases). We need a sufficiently large number of semiconductor factories in Europe so that investments in the production of the required raw materials are also worthwhile. Otherwise, additional dependencies will arise in other regions of the world. For this reason, I see the settlement of Intel as a positive sign for strengthening the location.

What is your vision for the location? How would you like to develop it further?

In my opinion, it is important for the location not only to focus on lighthouse projects and the latest and smallest technologies, but to grow across the board. The value chains in microelectronics are long and very diverse. In the end, many different processes are necessary before a circuit can fulfill its task in a car, for example. As a technology location, this range should be covered in both research and production, and should also be supported politically. Ultimately, a high degree of diversification is a basic prerequisite for high economic stability, even in times of crisis.

What are concrete support measures that are necessary on the way to this vision?

Support programs for microelectronics are very important, especially in view of global competition. Here, it would be desirable for the programs to be as concretely defined and unbureaucratic as possible. Most important, however, is that a funding rate can be achieved which is comparable with those of other countries worldwide.

In terms of skilled workforce strategies, further measures are needed to achieve more degrees in STEM professions. By this I mean not only degrees, but also vocational training in these fields. Initiatives are needed here to get young people from all areas of society interested in STEM professions as early as possible. In particular, programs to reach girls and young women more effectively for these professions must be expanded. But simply training or retraining new skilled workers will not be enough if the site is to continue to grow strongly. Policymakers should continue to work on improving the attractiveness of the location for foreign skilled workers, removing bureaucratic hurdles and making integration easier.

Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Tillner.


 

This interview was first published as part of our NEXT magazine "In the spotlight: Microelectronics".

To the complete edition of the magazine

 

More interviews in this series:

Infineon Dresden: Interview with Raik Brettschneider, Vice President & Managing Director

GlobalFoundries: Interview with Dr. Manfred Horstmann, Sr. Vice President & General Manager

SAW COMPONENTS: Interview with Frieder Birkholz, Authorized Signatory

Robert Bosch Semiconductor Manufacturing: Interview with Dr. Christian Koitzsch, Plant Manager

 

Related links:

Saxony‘s chip industry strengthens its supply chains

Germany‘s microelectronics landscape - Europe‘s semiconductor heart beats here

European Chips Act: Good, but good enough?