In conversation with Kris Myny from imec
Pragmatic Semiconductor has a game changing FlexIC Foundry service. For the first time, it is now possible for design houses, product companies and R&D organisations to quickly prototype and then manufacture in volume, custom low-cost flexible integrated circuits. We spoke with Dr Kris Myny, R&D Team Leader at imec, one of PragmatIC’s global partners using this offering, to learn more.
Founded in 1984 in Leuven, Belgium, imec is a leading research and innovation centre in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, with offices across the world. By leveraging an ecosystem of partners, imec creates ground-breaking applications across multiple sectors, such as healthcare, smart mobility, logistics and energy.
Dr Kris Myny is currently a Principal Member of Technical Staff and R&D Team Leader at imec, where he specialises in circuit design for flexible thin-film transistor (TFT) applications. Having gained his PhD in electrical engineering from the KU Leuven research university in 2013, he started at imec, where he received the European Young Researcher Award for his design work on thin-film electronics in 2018 and a prestigious ERC Starting Grant from the European Commission to enable breakthrough research in thin-film transistor circuits.
1) When and how did you first come across PragmatIC?
Kris: We have had a long-standing relationship with PragmatIC. For almost a decade, we have collaborated, along with other partners such as the Holst Centre and TNO, on technology innovation initiatives. This includes the award-winning EU Horizon 2020 PING project, where we worked together to develop the world’s first NFC tag based on oxide electronics used in interactive games.
2) What benefits do you think PragmatIC’s FlexIC Foundry® service offers imec?
Kris: Collaborating with PragmatIC offers several key advantages. The FlexIC Foundry service enables the rapid turnaround of new designs and prototypes with short design, technical and characterisation cycles. We can iterate and test our creations within weeks, and this helps to significantly increase the speed of projects and product developments. The specific technology benefit is the uniquely scaled TFT technology on a 200mm wafer. In addition, the availability of a comprehensive PDK (Process Design Kit) enables a silicon-like design flow, which is important for the success of the foundry model enabling fabless companies and designers to innovate on IC design and applications based on TFT technology. It will yield more accurate and better predicted designs and layouts resulting in final chips operating within specifications (performance, area, power).
3) Do you have a particular project in mind for using this foundry service?
Kris: The Internet of Things requires objects to be seamlessly embedded, and ultra-thin, flexible, low-cost electronics will be key in enabling this. PragmatIC’s unique solution is ideally suited for use in everyday products, for item-level tracking, authentication, and consumer engagement. We are investigating different design approaches. In our most recent tape-out in the framework of my ERC grant, we made an interesting large design with small transistors. This is a great benchmark for future work, as we are pushing the limits of the design space in this technology, combining >10k TFTs in a circuit. Looking at the initial results, we believe we can push it even more in future tape-outs, enabling more complex integrations and enabling a wider application portfolio requiring digital and analog flexible ICs.
4) How have you found working with PragmatIC?
Kris: Thanks to PragmatIC’s rapid cycle time, we can do agile IC development with more frequent and lower cost tape-outs. We have to interact closely with the PragmatIC team and have found PragmatIC to be a very professional and customer centric company. The communication is prompt, feedback cycles are fast, and discussions are always constructive and friendly.
5) What are your plans for the future?
Kris: We are increasing the scope of applications as well as the complexity of the designs, focusing first on TFT-only circuits. We will introduce improved analog circuits to interface a variety of sensors and actuators. In the future, we will also evaluate applications that require the hybrid co-integration of TFT circuits with silicon CMOS ICs, where the TFT circuits will be used as a smart interposer enabling a more complex input/output (IO) interface in terms of the number of IOs or voltage level. PragmatIC’s FlexIC Foundry service will be instrumental in enabling design teams like ours to increase the range of designs and use cases for flexible electronics.