LONDON -- Electronica, the world's largest electronic component exhibition, comes around every two years in Munich, Germany. It is very much a bellwhether for the state of the industry and particularly the industry in Europe.
There are always ups and downs in economic cycles and to an extent Electronica has reflected these. But also, to an extent, the large and well-organized event has always risen about the turmoil of individual business cycles as exhibitors from around the world taken the long view of the industry.
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But this November 13 to 16 there is clear possibility that Electronica will be taking place under clouds of the continent's own making. Such things as the euro currency crisis, and the rumors swirling around Europe's largest chip company, STMicroelectronics (see ST denies breakup rumors) and the failure to drive through the BAe Systems EADS merger.
It is a long-standing tradition that the CEOs of Europe's leading chip companies conduct a public debate on the state-of-the-industry on the opening day of the show, usually with a U.S. guest CEO to provide international perspective.
This year is no different with ST CEO Carlo Bozotti due to line up alongside Rick Clemmer, CEO of NXP Semiconductors, Gregg Lowe, CEO of Freescale Semiconductor and the newly installed Reinhard Ploss, CEO of Infineon Technologies. These guys need to shake things up, light some fireworks and dispel the gloom that could otherwise fall on the crowds at Messe Munchen.
There is no doubt these captains of our industry will be asked where the industry is going and why Europe is appearing to drift – not sideways but downwards – and what they can do about it. However, the moderator for these round-table discussions is usually fairly gentle with the CEOs so I expect Bozotti will not be pressed on an ST corporate strategy disclosure that is expected in December.
But the discussion must recognize the tension developing between, on one side, the European Union, industry body SEMI, research institutes like IMEC and on the other side the commercial chip companies such as Infineon, NXP and ST.
The former group wants to invest on maintaining leading-edge, global capability in nanoelectronics and to support such companies as ASML Lithography NV (Veldhoven, The Netherlands). The chip companies are run by the numbers have for many years been cutting their cloth according to their means and on the fab-lite pattern.
The right panelists and the right questions could make the atmosphere fizz with excitement as Europe tries to re-ignite some panache and get-up-and-go.
The alternative is a repeat of the familiar optimism that merely says "look how important semiconductors are in emerging technologies," but does not explain or provide a healing prescription for Europe. That would come off like a damp squib.