Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Microelectronics design

Research into all aspects of microelectronics design, from the development of novel designs to research into design tools, processes and design automation.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Research into all aspects of microelectronics design, from the development of novel designs to research into design tools, processes and design automation. This research area includes:

  • managing complexity in design, integration, verification and test on-chip
  • design combining analogue and digital components
  • development of design tools or technologies – for example, synthesis, simulation, optimisation and reconfigurable hardware.

This strategy recognises the importance of microelectronics design as a key enabling technology and an area of UK strength and importance.

Researchers should continue to develop new technology to manage system complexity (including reactive systems), alongside developing novel approaches to limit and reduce power consumption.

We aim to have:

  • researchers forming new collaborations with those in the Architectures and operating systems and Programming languages and compilers areas, in response to developments in neuromorphic and heterogeneous computing, as well as in memristor technology and embedded systems – which are expected to generate new challenges for microelectronics design
  • researchers making contributions to EPSRC’s cross-information and communications technologies (ICT) priorities of Future Intelligent Technologies, Safe and Secure ICT and Data Enabled Decision Making, through their work on system security, reliability and performance
  • researchers contributing to the development of disruptive technologies in a wide range of application areas (such as healthcare, manufacturing and energy) and continuing to engage strongly with industry.

Fully addressing many of these challenges will require ambitious cross-disciplinary proposals bringing together researchers from a variety of areas, as described in the cross-disciplinarity and co-creation cross-ICT priority.

We will continue to monitor research training provision and the development of future leaders in this area, to ensure these reflect academic and industrial needs.

Why we're doing it

This is an area of high research quality where the UK is a major global player. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 exercise rated a large number of publications in this area as 4*, and university strategies and investments reflect this strength.

The UK microelectronics industry acutely recognises the importance of high-quality university research, and a large appetite for such engagement in UK universities supports this.

Particular areas of strength include:

  • ultra-low power
  • integration with sensors
  • application-specific integrated circuits
  • power-harvesting
  • autonomic (self-governing) systems
  • reconfigurable hardware
  • processing-on-node
  • multi-core processors
  • neuromorphic computation.

The UK electronics systems sector is of major national importance. Electronic Systems Challenges and Opportunities (ESCO) estimated that, in 2013, electronic systems technology was worth £80 billion a year to the UK economy and that “the UK has a 40% share of Europe’s electronics design industry”.

Companies such as ARM and Imagination Technologies have capitalised on this strength and are leading global players. There is substantial engagement in this sector from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with larger EPSRC grants, including spinouts – for example Gold Standard Simulations. There is strong support in Europe for investment in massively parallel and heterogeneous environments and low-energy computing.

Intel’s acquisition of Altera and the integration of field-programmable data arrays (FPGAs) into Microsoft datacentres demonstrates the growing importance of FPGA technology and the likely widespread adoption of heterogeneous computing. This increase in complexity opens new challenges for microelectronics design. Industry recognises the potential for transformational research in memory technology, which would also provide new opportunities for developments in microelectronic design.

Industry reports also recognise the growing importance of embedded software with sensor technology and predict that the greatest potential economic impact of the Internet of Things will be in industry (in process control) and cities (for example resource management and public health).

Sector-wide concerns exist over training provision in electronic systems, especially regarding postgraduate training. Career progression is also a concern, as it seems there is a trend for early-career researchers to move into more complex system areas away from the core discipline. It is unclear whether or to what extent this is a concern, but does need monitoring.

Key to facilitating this area’s contribution to the EPSRC outcomes is the extent of support for technology development at higher Technology Readiness Levels. To date, the focus on larger grants has allowed more flexibility over this. Future strategies should ensure that these investments continue to deliver in this way.

Key enabling organisations for UK research include:

This research area is linked with many areas and themes across EPSRC, most notably to areas within ICT. Those currently most relevant include Microelectronics device technology, Architectures and operating systems, Clinical technologies, and Radio frequency and microwave communications.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Last updated: 22 December 2022

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