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Dresden is emerging as a new German “deeptech” hub
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Dresden is emerging as a new German “deeptech” hub

Behind us, a strange presence approached in a breath and startled us. The menacing creature is actually a small autonomous robot on batteries, which stops a few centimeters from our legs. He transports from one machine to another one of these innumerable cubic boxes containing wafers, the silicon wafers that will become electronic chips after several hundred transformation operations. One step away from the path. After a short hesitation, the robot resumes its journey between the many gray and white machines of the factory.

The experience is disturbing. In this “clean room” of the Dresden factory (Saxony, eastern Germany) of the Infineon group, it is the human who disturbs and the machines who lead the way. Under the slightly yellow lighting of the rooms dedicated to lithography (the process of printing the microcircuits that make up semiconductors), the number of particles that can disrupt production is reduced to a minimum.

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Before entering, you had to change out of your street clothes to put on a blue synthetic fabric jumpsuit, a cap, a mouth mask and anti-static shoes. In the room, the air is constantly filtered, in a downward draft which produces a slight chill on the shoulders, adding to the strangeness of the place. When you raise your head, a network of rails transports the famous boxes to the ceiling, day and night, without human intervention. The few technicians present, dressed in white, are there to repair the machines and spot errors in the final product.

“No industry is more complex and more expensive. The Dresden plant owes its competitiveness to a high degree of automation. In the past, boxes were transported by hand », explains Andreas Greiner, director of the site’s lithography department. He takes the time to make presentations: the robot that made us flinch was produced a few kilometers away, by a young company founded by former students, and tested at Infineon, he says enthusiastically.

The euphoria is felt everywhere

This is the strength of the Dresden ecosystem, Europe’s leading center of expertise in microelectronics: major manufacturers such as Infineon or GlobalFoundries could not exist without an extremely dense network of research and development and subcontracting SMEs, which work to improve the product and to optimize its manufacture. In an ultra-globalised and very cyclical sector, technological advance is vital to withstand competition. In total, 2,500 companies are located around the Saxon capital for 64,000 direct jobs.

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