Malcolm Penn, CEO of technology and market analysis company Future Horizons Ltd., believes in the importance of retaining control of manufacturing passionately. He has spoken many times of the fab-lite business model as a being merely the reprehensible and drawn-out process of abandoning manufacturing.
Penn has also long-warned that abandoning chip manufacturing in Europe would have consequences in terms of our ability to create jobs here and to create value that can be exported. We are starting to stare those consequences in the face as countries across Europe teeter on the edge of bankruptcy.
Penn has now had the opportunity to flesh out his thesis in a substantial report prepared for the European Commission. There are indications that at least some bureaucrats in Brussels are coming round to Penn's point of view. But that is not enough.
It seems likely that a 450-mm pilot fab based at IMEC's site in Leuven, Belgium will happen. But beyond that, if any of the more ambitious plans touched on in the report are going to happen they need both metaphorical and literal buy-in from the European chip companies.
Last time I took the temperature in Europe on this subject, the European Commission was a lot more interested in it than the indigenous European companies. When it comes to using European tax payers' money to support 450-mm chip manufacturing the European chip companies tend to point to more urgent and near-term things they need to spend the taxpayers' money on.
Meanwhile both the bureaucrats and those chip company leaders are being distracted by the implosion of the eurozone and the global financial crisis that it could trigger. I heard this quote with reference to the bankers and politicians of Europe: "When faced with a difficult decision it is natural for human beings to choose denial." With regard to the euro, European federalism and the radical stimulus of engineering-based value creation I suspect we are all somewhere along the longest of Africa's rivers.