Since 2005, the MST congress has been taking place every two years in Germany. It is the largest congress for microsystems technology in the German-speaking countries and not only brings together established industrial partners, but also works to promote start-ups and young, intelligent researchers. The chairman Professor Klaus-Dieter Lang from Fraunhofer IZM talks about the MST congress 2019 and general trends in microelectronics and microsystems technology in an interview with RealIZM.
RealIZM: Let us start with a brief overview of the MST congress.
Klaus-Dieter Lang: This was now our eighth MikroSystemTechnik Conference. It has a primarily academic thrust: It is about research projects and research trends in this field. The congress is organised by VDE-GMM, VDE/VDI-IT, and we are supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
RealIZM: Which target groups is the event meant for?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: Our main target group is, of course, researchers working on new principles and new topics in microsystems technology. But it is also about young people working at universities, in the industry, and at research institutions. Our first source of momentum came from the automotive industry initially, but there are now more and more applications joining in, such as medicine, wearables, or communication. Not to forget: The congress provides an important platform for networking, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.
RealIZM: What is the purpose of this event?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: The event actually has two missions: The first is to engage with the current requirements in applied microsystems technology, but also in science, as scientific progress changes microsystem architectures. The second focus is to support a smoother and more impactful transition of all of this into our public, social, and professional lives. These are the two points we are pursuing: Mastering technological challenges, and making the resulting applications better, easier, faster, in a nutshell: optimized.
RealIZM: Do you have a defined vision for the congress?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: it is about supporting our lives: living better, living more efficiently, for example with the help of microsystems technology that can save our environment. Another part of the vision is that microsystems should be invisible: They should be helping and supporting us, without us noticing or them impacting us negatively.
RealIZM: What goals have you already achieved, and what else would you like to achieve?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: That is a tough question. The congress is always intrinsically tied up with its professional backdrop: There is always a chairman and local chairs who organize the congress according to the specific national and regional focus. This means that it is a different group that organizes the congress each time, and each group has its own goals. It is not like in other congresses, where you have the same chair and the same design throughout. We have our central theme with a shared purpose, but the specifics of the actual events are not determined by me or any other single person. There is always someone else in the lead.
Of course, we do have a steering and a program committee, who both determine the top-line goals. But in the specific happenings on the ground, there are definitely different priorities within the research topics and technologies and applications. That makes everything incredibly dynamic and interesting.
RealIZM: How has congress developed since its first inception?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: The structure has changed rather little. We always had beautiful, large-scale locations, between seven hundred and a thousand participants, a certain number of exhibitors, and very good keynote speakers. What has changed is that there are really new challenges for microsystems. These include, for example, the large amounts of data that have to be processed today via the internet or other networks. In addition, there are the communication platforms we have now, 4G, 5G, and everything else that comes next. This did not exist in the early days of microsystems technology; it was a new topic to contend with. This is still affecting how the congress is evolving.
RealIZM: Were there ever any organizational difficulties?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: The biggest difficulty is probably selecting the central themes and finding participants that you want on board and that you need to encourage to submit contributions. That means an average of 250 posts, and they, of course, depend on how you design and implement the new themes you picked. But that has been solved quite well. There is a steering committee that takes care of the topics, the alignment, and the current trends, and a programme committee that selects and evaluates the contributions. One constant hurdle is, of course, maintaining our high standard. And we need to keep our attendees coming back to the congress again and again, because it is those people from the industry who are ultimately responsible for converting ideas into actual products.
RealIZM: To what extent does the MST congress differ from other conferences on similar topics happening around Germany?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: The first and most obvious point is that we are the world’s largest German-language congress in the field of microsystems technology, both in terms of the number of participants and the number of contributions. This enables the congress to cover a much wider range of technology and applications than a smaller, more specific event could hope to do. In addition, we have our academic roots, so we are serving the entire university and research institute sector. That gives us a really broad church, from basic research to applied research – from the university view all the way to our Fraunhofer work. The research value chain is served very well.
Internationally, it is more difficult to compare, not least because of the differences in terms and definitions. Apart from that, the congress can also hold its own in terms of its content and format, compared with other international meetings and conferences. Historically, however, you need to understand that there are no microsystem conferences in the sense that we use. The idea of microsystems is an invention of the German-speaking world. Of course there are conferences of IEEE or IMAPS that cover some of the same ground, but a direct comparison is simply difficult.
RealIZM: What innovations did this year’s MST congress surprise its visitors with?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: The Cosima competition and the Invent-a-Chip competition are success stories that will carry forward. I think the MST congress surprised us this year with the exceptionally high quality of the entries. This high quality also shows that there is much to discover among young scientists. There were surprisingly many young people who presented excellent results.
Also, the keynotes were of outstanding quality again.
RealIZM: Which topics did you pick for this congress?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: Compared to previous iterations, the highlights were mostly topics that focused on finished systems. It was about system integration, where systems interact, and about the functionality of software. And of course, there are the perennial new challenges, like 5G, communication standards, or the processing of large amounts of data, as well as new sensor types that keep getting smaller.
RealIZM: This time you reached out specifically to business founders and start-ups. What are you planning for the MST congress in this respect?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: Start-ups play an important role in high technology or in innovation in general. They work fast, have good ideas, and are committed. And they are increasingly engaged with more complex systems, including system integration for special applications with completely new concepts. We have to break new ground in how we support start-ups. It is not only about the supply of technology or technical implementation, but also about financing and legal aspects. Sometimes, start-ups do not need a high-tech solution at all; they just need a standard solution to continue developing their product and get new financing. It is a different kind of cooperation, and we want to promote it. Start-ups are important for the dissemination of microsystems, new ideas, and new hardware for a wide variety of applications. That is why we have created a format in the run-up to the congress where start-ups can present themselves and network.
RealIZM: How would you see the development of microelectronics after the congress?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: We need to see this from both the technological and the application side, and the special challenges in microsystems technology have to be highlighted. Of course, we have to become more and more connected with microelectronics. There is always a need for going smaller with the semiconductor itself. We have to meet new requirements, such as high-performance computing or edge computing, all the new trends in computer technology, data processing, communication. And that is only the technological part.
At the same time, we must keep in mind that we are part of a global network and global competition. The important thing we need for products to meet these challenges is that they are competitive and can survive in the global marketplace. We need to have the value chain covered, from semiconductor production to microelectronics products. This is no longer the case today, partly because of economic and political circumstances in the world. This is why it is important in Europe to have access to all new developments or make progress ourselves. The FMD, for example, is involved in this on the research side, as is the EU with several countries, e.g. with IPCEI. We are on the right track, but it must be built up and developed. In addition to the provision of technology, however, trust or trustworthy electronics are an important aspect. Whenever this was mentioned in recent years, it was always only about software, above all about issues such as data protection. Now, hardware must also be trustworthy, and this is a new task that we need to tackle together. Of course, you can only do that if you keep the product, production, and development in your own hands.
RealIZM: But overall, you would see positive developments?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: Yes, very positive ones! Finally, the political side in Europe as well as in Germany has recognized that microelectronics and microsystems technology are key technologies for all possible products and areas of our lives. People used to say in the past: “Why should we develop something? We can just buy it when we need it”. Now, you can see that, first, purchasing is no longer easy and, second, knowing what to buy where is a difficult question.
RealIZM: Where do you see the trends in microelectronics heading in Europe and Germany?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: Microelectronics is more and more becoming an indispensable part of a very wide range of products. It is an increasingly prominent part of our personal, social, and professional lives. We are almost at a point where we have to say that we can no longer live without them. Now, of course, you have to see that microelectronics must also be seen in terms of environmental issues. Which materials go in, where do they come from and how much energy do they consume? How can microelectronics in general help us become more climate-neutral? These are topics that did not even exist for microelectronics ten or twenty years ago. But I am firmly convinced that microelectronics can make a difference. I am also confident that life will not work without microelectronics. How, for example, are social networks supposed to function without microelectronics?
RealIZM: Can you name the top topics for microelectronics going forward?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: One will be the combination of microelectronics and photonics, silicon photonics for example. There is the introduction of compound semiconductors, that is, no longer only silicon, but new options via gallium nitride, for example. Another future topic will be the integration of new materials, such as graphene. As far as applications are concerned, we need to focus more on high-frequency systems, quantum sensors, and quantum technologies. And we must revolutionize computing technology – not only computer hardware itself – but also in terms of algorithms. Microelectronics can no longer be separated from software as a technology or as hardware or microsystems technology. These topics were also discussed at the MST congress.
RealIZM: What were your most interesting talks at the conference?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: This is going to be difficult. Because of the many tasks you have as the chairman, I did attend one or two sessions, and I thought it all went very well. However, it is primarily the participants and their feedback that matter for us. And they were very positive about the quality of all the presentations. The only thing I could judge meaningfully are the keynotes, all of which I attended. I found them to be a great match, topic-wise, and the quality of the presentations was also incredibly good. I cannot and would not commit myself to picking a favourite. Everything was excellent. I think where I learned the most was in the lecture about 5G. That is not because I am not familiar with it at all, but because the facets and peculiarities of using 5G and the opportunities it brings were presented very well, impressively even.
RealIZM: What are your expectations for the next event?
Klaus-Dieter Lang: (laughs) I hope that the quality and visibility of this congress will continue as before and that it will develop, stay dynamic, and keep engaging with future topics.
This interview was conducted by Yulia Fedorovich and edited by Marieke Lienert from Fraunhofer IZM Marketing & Business Development department.
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