Semiconductor digital twins to sip $285M from America's CHIPS Act funding pool

Fake it until you make it, literally

The US government on Monday earmarked $285 million in CHIPS Act funding for the development of semiconductor digital twins.

That development work will be carried out at a newly formed Manufacturing USA institute; as the name suggests, these organizations are tasked with boosting domestic production of crucial next-gen materials and technologies, from photonics and polymers to robotics and biofabrication, so that the nation relies less on foreign suppliers.

As detailed by the US Department of Commerce, companies, universities, non-profits, and the like can apply to build and run the CHIPS Manufacturing USA Institute, which will be the first such institute established by the Biden administration, using the aforementioned slice of CHIPS Act subsidies.

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The resulting organization will focus on developing digital twins of semiconductors. We used to have words like simulation, emulation, and model for this kind of thing, but it's the 2020s so we guess we need more trendy terms like digital twin. Semiconductor digital twins are supposed to be close virtual representations of the real thing, and are held in the cloud or something similar to that so teams can collaborate on the design, testing, and analysis of these components.

The Dept of Commerce described digital twins as "virtual models that mimic the structure, context, and behavior of a physical counterpart," and that the chip institute will be "focused on the development, validation, and use of digital twins for semiconductor manufacturing, advanced packaging, assembly, and test processes."

All of which should hopefully help America move faster when it comes to designing, checking, tweaking, prototyping, optimizing, and fabricating its own world-beating chips. Call it simulation or modelling or digital twins – twins are supposed to be more comprehensive and capable than simulations – whatever, it's getting a gulp from the broader $52 billion CHIPS Act funding pool.

"This new Manufacturing USA institute will not only help to make America a leader in developing this new technology for the semiconductor industry, it will also help train the next generation of American workers and researchers to use digital twins for future advances in R&D and production of chips," said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The funding opportunity [PDF], published by Dept of Commerce and NIST, indicates that any domestic entity, be it a nonprofit, for-profit, university or government, based in the US are eligible to apply for funding. Majority ownership of any applicant must be US-based, naturally. 

The CHIPS Manufacturing Institute will be joining 17 other Manufacturing USA members. Some institutes, like The Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute or Power America, which is working on development of advanced semiconductor components, have an obvious tech industry focus. 

Others seem more like they come from the realm of near-future science fiction, like BioFabUSA, a firm working to "integrate innovative cell and tissue cultures with advances in biofabrication, automation, robotics, and analytical technologies," according to its description on the Manufacturing USA site.

Each member of the Manufacturing USA is dedicated to its own focus, the body said, but "is also designed to accelerate US advanced manufacturing as a whole." ®

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