CEO Talk: Steve Beckers, VP at imec

July 22, 2020, anysilicon

This interview was held with: Steve Beckers, VP at imec



Tell me a bit about your background. How did you start at imec/imec.IC-link?

With 37 years in the semiconductor industry, I consider myself a veteran. I started my career at Alcatel Microelectronics in 1983 and worked there for 18 years, in various positions. Then I moved to STMicroelectronics where I worked for another 12 years. After 30 years of experience, I joined imec and became responsible for a group within imec that’s called imec.IC-link.


Tell me more about imec and imec.IC-link.

Imec is an R&D and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies. It’s been in operation since 1984 and has created a world-class infrastructure supported by a local and global ecosystem of partners. There are more than 4000 talented people from about 95 different nationalities working on innovation at imec, in application domains such as health care, smart cities and mobility, logistics and manufacturing, energy and education.


The group that I lead, imec.IC-link, is a little bit different from the typical R&D groups within imec. We don’t do research, but rather help companies make ASICs.


The customer defines what he needs from our services. It’s like going to the restaurant: there are those with a traditional menu, but there are also restaurants where you combine elements from the menu to create your own meal. That’s what we want to be: a technology provider where the customer decides if he needs just some services or the complete implementation of the ASIC. Of course, like so many actors in the semiconductor industry, we rely on cooperation with others – both for design and manufacturing. That’s why our partner network is one of the cornerstones of our operations.


We have been seeing dynamics of semiconductor technology, as well as in product applications, how do you see the market trend nowadays?

We see that a new paradigm has been demonstrating itself in the semiconductor market over the last 10 years. Until 2011, it was very expensive for companies to use ASIC technologies. And it’s still true today for what we call the advanced nodes. But if you look at the application domains that we’re serving: medical, health care, industrial, security, … those applications can be realized with somewhat older technology.


180, 65 and 40 nm have become affordable for most of the start-ups and lots of system houses. The result? Products that are produced in quantities of 10k to 100k units can now be easily realized with ASICs, where that was completely impossible 10 years ago.


What is a typical customer for imec.IC-link?

We have lots of different customers, including entrepreneurs, start-ups, universities, design and system houses. But there are 2 types that we see the most. On one side there are more and more start-ups making ASICs again. On the other side there are large system houses that have limited knowledge of ASIC technology but have now discovered the power of ASICs.


Which market segments seem promising to you and why?

I get this question very often. There are a lot of promising segments: health care, medical technology, industry 4.0, and, of course, automotive, security, financial technology and even the agriculture and food industry.


But one jumps out. It’s not really an application domain but a function: artificial intelligence. You can find it in many segments, for example industry 4.0 – mainly for edge computing – or in health care for medical imaging.


How did the offerings of imec.IC-link change during the recent years?

The offering of imec.IC-link changed a lot. When I came on board in 2013, we were mainly offering prototyping capability on multi-project wafers (MPW). When the customer wanted to bring that prototyping to volume production, we were doing a full mask tape-out.


In the last 7 years, we added a lot to our service portfolio: assembly, testing, qualification, certification, more design activities (front- and back-end), design IP and even system design. We perform most of the design activities together with our design and IP partner network, where we act as a value-added reseller of the partner network services.


We’ve broadened our portfolio, but also significantly expanded geographically. Before, we were mainly covering Europe, including Israel and Russia, then we added Brazil, India, Japan, in the last 3 years North America, and since 2019 also China.


As you’ve been working in the semiconductor industry for 37 years, is there any experience that you would like to share?

I wouldn’t know where to begin (laughs)! About 3 years ago I took the initiative to bring my experiences, stories and recommendations together and share them with the community. I wrote 52 blogs and published them on LinkedIn under the name “52 BD GEMS”. Everyone is more than welcome to read them. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/52-bd-gems-steve-beckers?trk=portfolio_article-card_title


Are you currently hiring? What type of jobs?

Yes, we’re hiring across the imec organization and there are more than 100 open vacancies. Specifically at imec.IC-link, we’re always looking for new talent – ASIC designers, ASIC test engineers, ASIC program managers, ASIC business development managers, more or less anything with ASIC in the name of the function (laughs).


Where can one find more information? 

On our website www.imec-int.com and our LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/company/imec/


How do you keep yourself energized and engaged during the day? What is the best moment in your day?

Those moments when I’m directly interacting with a customer are important and energizing at the same time. And pleasing your customer is the most energizing thing in the business. Of course, currently during the “corona time” a lot of that energy is in cyberspace. I’m looking forward to the future when we can have those interactions face to face again.

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