Do you have an innovative idea, and do you want to upscale your product to large volumes? Does your company lack the required skills to design the technical features of a new product? Or do you want to transform a disruptive technology into a working demonstrator? In imec’s office in Taiwan, an enthusiastic and multidisciplinary team is ready to help you. Under guidance of General Manager Peter Lemmens, they turn your idea into a market-ready product. Peter Lemmens highlights the activities of his team and explains which companies make use of their services.
From idea to product
The tag line ‘Full turnkey product development services’ immediately reveals the main activity of imec Taiwan, imec’s R&D department set up in the Taiwanese Hsinchu end 2009. Peter Lemmens: “Every company that has an innovative idea and wants to turn that idea into a market-ready product, can make use of our services. Our full turnkey product development service ranges from product engineering – mechanical, software and electronics design – over prototyping to production. How far we go depends on the needs and technical skills of our customers. But for each case, we strive to integrate an innovative aspect in the design. For some of our customers, we take care of product design, certification and pre-compliance tests (e.g. CE for Europe and CDFA for China), IP protection and large-volume production. For others, the project ends with a working prototype.” Imec Taiwan offers services to companies worldwide and from diverse sectors. Peter Lemmens: “Most of our customers are from the US, Europe and Asia. Then comes the rest of the world, including Taiwan. Their products find application in a broad range of sectors, such as the medical sector (e.g. health monitoring or medical equipment), consumer electronics, displays, robotics, logistics etc. Many of the projects we run follow general trends, such as the trend towards increased automation.”
At the heart of the electronics industry
Being located in Taiwan is an important asset to turn system solutions into semi-finished or complete products. Peter Lemmens: “Taiwan, and more general Asia, is the ‘center of gravity’ for consumer electronics. As a consequence, you will find in Asia the skills required to quickly develop high-quality products. So on the one hand, working in Taiwan gives us direct access to human resources having very specific skills in a variety of domains (mechanical design, embedded software etc...). On the other hand, we are at the heart of an electronics manufacturing ecosystem: chip development, precision mechanics, photonics, displays, ICT etc – it’s all there. This allows us to get in contact with the right suppliers, to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and to get insight into e.g. the cost of upscaling a product. This kind of information is very valuable to companies for building a good business case. Especially in the electronics industry, developments evolve at a rapid pace and a lot of information is distributed through an informal circuit. Imec Taiwan has access to this information via its own network, and is closely following the latest knowledge from within the manufacturing industry.”
Mirror, mirror on the wall...
With its services, imec is not only helping Taiwanese companies. This is nicely illustrated with the example of the ME2 Mirror, the result of a collaboration between two Flemish companies De Keyzer (manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom furniture) and Deknudt (developer of mirrors for B2B applications). The ME2 Mirror is the first mirror ever that shows front and backside at the same time. It consists of two pivoting panels with mirrors on both sides. The left panel integrates a five megapixel camera. This camera operates as a webcam, but, in contrast to a traditional webcam, it sends images in real time and in high definition. Peter Lemmens: “In this story, imec Taiwan developed the electronics and optimised the cost of the innovative mirror system. We also optimised the system for changing environmental light. The ME2 Mirror integrates a smart feature that allows capturing high-qualitative images even in difficult circumstances specific to a bathroom. Therefore, this bathroom cabinet targets the qualitative high-end furniture market. Imec Taiwan also provided a working prototype that could be tested by the main partners of Deknudt and De Keyzer.”
From startup to multinational
Startup companies, SMEs as well as multinationals find their way to imec Taiwan, and each of these companies has its own reason to come to imec. Peter Lemmens: “Startup companies typically look for outsource R&D. They quickly want to check their idea against the market and be sure that their solution is up-scalable to large volumes. But they don’t (yet) have the required skills to do so. Most SMEs want to innovate at product level and collaborating with imec is a safe way to do so.” Large companies also make use of the services offered by imec Taiwan. In some cases, they look for unique technologies which they find at imec. But for some companies, not all of imec’s technologies and research results are mature enough to be licensed and to be further developed through their own resources and at their own risk. Peter Lemmens: “We can make these technologies more mature for them. This way, we provide a step-stone for companies to integrate imec’s technology in their products and accelerate market entry. Also, large companies often look for technology trends, mostly very disruptive technologies. We can integrate these technologies into a demonstrator. This way, companies can experience what the technology can mean for the end user.”
This can be nicely illustrated by stereo vision, a much used technology for measuring object distances. The technology was still in a research stage at imec. Imec Taiwan has further developed and matured the technology. The developed technology allows depth measuring with ultrahigh precision and high frame rates. With these characteristics, stereo vision can be deployed in many applications, e.g. surveillance, traffic, industrial automation, self-driving vehicles etc. Peter Lemmens: “This way, imec Taiwan helps entrepreneurs to fast-track market entry and scale-up. For our customers, collaborating with imec Taiwan can be a step stone towards a more intensive collaboration with imec. Indeed, the imec team in Taiwan and the imec research teams in Leuven on the one hand, and imec Taiwan and imec’s worldwide sales network on the other hand, closely collaborate.”
Imec Taiwan was launched in 2008, initially as a sales and representative office of imec. End 2009, an R&D department was added to the office activities, focused on system development and product engineering. Today, a multidisciplinary team of about 30 enthusiastic employees is ready to flexibly answer the needs of companies. Peter Lemmens: “We house people with diverse backgrounds. Industrial designers as well as scientists work with us, allowing us to apply science based methods. This way, we very well understand the technical challenges faced by our customers. And in case we lack the expertise ourselves, we can always call upon our colleagues of imec in Europe. This diverse pool of talents in combination with our trust in imec and our access to the ecosystem in Taiwan is what makes us unique. There are not many providers in the world that have all this in their offer.”
Imec Taiwan has its own lab, well equipped as a standard lab for system development. In this lab, they make prototypes in small volumes. When larger volumes are needed, they call upon their partners from mainly Taiwan. They collaborate with about 50 partners on a continuous base.
Peter Lemmens: “Imec Taiwan has evolved quite a lot since its launch. Today, we solely work on a project base. Each project we carry out is unique and on demand. We have also evolved into a self-funding company. About 70% of our revenue is coming from contracts with industrial customers.” Since 2009, Peter Lemmens is active at imec for setting up the R&D department in Taiwan.
Before joining imec, he spent most of his career at Philips, where he was in contact with R&D departments in Asia. Peter Lemmens: “I consider myself an explorer, a doer, and I like bringing together various cultures. I like to create a good team and to energize that team. Setting up an R&D department of imec in Taiwan was a real opportunity for me. And I’m very confident about the future. Imec Taiwan has passed the startup phase, and is currently in a scale-up stage, in terms of both business and head count. This growth trajectory comes along with several operational challenges. The landscape as well as our customers are constantly on the move. Flexibly responding to all these changes will always remain a key issue...”