ECE-Led Consortium Aims to Re-Shore Semiconductor Manufacturing

Supply chain disruptions. The Big Hack. Ransom attacks. These issues, familiar to all from the steady stream of stories in the media, have one thing in common. They all have to do with, in one way or another, semiconductor manufacturing. More to the point, these issues point to one critical issue—semiconductors (or computer chips) are manufactured overseas with varying degrees of oversight and trustworthiness, creating economic vulnerability in areas critical to society and U.S. national security.

An industry/academic consortium spearheaded by ECE FLORIDA faculty is aiming to change that. The Southeastern Consortium for Assured Leading Edge Semiconductors (SCALES) is harnessing money unleashed by the CHIPS Act to jump-start semiconductor manufacturing in the Southeast. The not-for-profit consortium of more than 70 entities is working to respond to funding opportunities as part of the transformational legislation knowns as the CHIPS for America Act. The goal is nothing short of using this once-in-a-generation funding to reclaim the manufacturing side of a technology that was created in part by American innovation and daring.

SCALES operates largely as a catalyst, putting talent together in the same place. Work began with months of virtual meetings in which consortium members—arrayed along lines of technology thrusts—worked through the challenges in bringing a vibrant manufacturing ecosystem to the Southeast, an area lagging far behind the traditional hubs of Silicon Valley and the Southwest. The end result of the discussions was a report initially presented at Florida Semiconductor Week in January.

Following Florida Semiconductor Week, SCALES turned to facilitating responses to Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFOs) emanating from the Chips for America Act. The consortium organized a day-long meeting to prepare a response to the NOFO focusing on commercial fabrication facilities. Convening at BRIDG, in Kissimmee on April 10, more than 120 experts from academia and industry gathered to plot, strategize, and team up. The resulting letter of intent to propose should be submitted to the Department of Commerce in May.

Building on those successes, SCALES now turns its sights to the three NOFOs expected later in the fall—the Manufacturing Institute(s), the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC), and the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing program (NAPMP). For the Manufacturing Institutes, SCALES is exploring a potential partnership with the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), as well as pursuing a SCALES-centric submission. For NSTC and NAPMP, SCALES is in discussion with both MITRE & ASIC, seeking ways to provide regional strength to these powerful coalitions as we prepare for the next NOFOs. More to come on that soon.

Having completed our four-part workforce development virtual panel discussions focusing on different areas of the semiconductor ecosystem (microelectronics generally; heterogeneous integration and advanced packaging; secure computing; AI/ML hardware), planning for more webinars is underway. The webinars are available to view on the SCALES YouTube channel.