CTA-SME is a one-year pilot action to try out ways of improving the awareness and take-up of microelectronics technologies by small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). It is intended to provide a forum through which relevant activities at Community and national level can communicate, exchange information and address common problems.
In addition to convening workshops and setting up training activities, the pilot phase will prepare (in collaboration with the relevant member-state programmes) "technology transfer packages" that contain information covering the market analysis, economic assessment, design and fabrication of ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits). Initially drawing on the results of existing ESPRIT microelectronics projects, these "packages" will be made available to SMEs and national SME service centres throug hout the European Community.
If the pilot phase, after independent evaluation, is found to have been successful, the Commission will propose the extension of the action with the aim of reaching a large number of the approximately 25,000 European SMEs that could (as recent surveys indicate) incorporate ASICs and other microelectronics components into their products and so gain a competitive advantage in the global information technology market.
ASICs are being used in an ever-widening range of products, ranging from aeroplanes to automobiles, toys to telephones, and word-processors to washing-machines. Almost every sector of manufacturing industry can benefit from the application of ASIC technology, as it permits manufacturers to add more functions to their products, so that systems and equipment can achieve higher performances and be made more versatile and easier to use. As well as simplifying product design and cutting manufacturing, assemblyand subsequent maintenance times, ASIC technology helps reduce the number of components and material costs while increasing reliability. All this improves the profit-margins and competitive position of the companies concerned.
SMEs, with their capacity for quick and timely innovation, are playing a crucial role in maintaining the competitiveness of Europe's IT industry. Their faster reactions to changing market conditions and willingness to take risks accelerates the development of new types of products and the exploitation of leading-edge technologies. But most of the estimated 25,000 SMEs that could make good use of ASICs, recent surveys show, have either a limited capacity to make use of ASIC technology or little or no awareness of its potential for their business - and those that already use ASICs would benefit from expert evaluation of the pros and cons of using different approaches in any particular application. These are the questions that the CTA-SME pilot action will be investigating in close collaboration with existing regional, national and international initiatives in this area.