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    Would you rather have a matchbox or a Tic Tac under your skin? A Tampere-based company aims to dominate the world of small smart implants

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    SCHOTT Primoceler's Quality Manager, Heidi Lundén, holds a tiny glass-packaged smart implant with tweezers. Photographer: Petri Kangas

    Tampere and Pirkanmaa region has taken bold strides in semiconductor development, with momentum accelerating following the EU's €40 million university funding last April. The funding will establish a pilot line for semiconductor chip encapsulation. The CEO of a company based in Tampere praises the upcoming project and the collaboration in the region. SCHOTT Primoceler boasts strong foundations in chip packaging using glass.


    Glass is an excellent material when it comes to the construction of intelligent implants. Intelligent implants are electronic components implanted into humans for longer periods. The laser glass micro bonding developed by SCHOTT Primoceler, a company based and started here in Tampere and acquired by German ownership in 2018, enables the creation of tiny casings for healthcare technology devices. According to CEO Ville Hevonkorpi, the most common implant is the pacemaker, which their company can shrink from the size of a titanium matchbox to the size of a pinky fingernail.

    – Our implant is considerably smaller than traditional ones, so it can be placed in more locations and closer to the required position. The number of application areas increases significantly, Hevonkorpi says and continues:

    – Glass is a biocompatible material, meaning it does not react with the body, whereas metals corrode. Think about window glass: it may last a hundred years, but wooden frames and metal hinges succumb to time, he compares.

    Unlike a titanium casing, glass allows visible light and radio frequencies to pass through. Power and data transfer wirelessly. In a traditional device, the power source is a significant part that increases size.

    Quality Manager Heidi Lundén from SCHOTT Primoceler agrees. Everyone has experienced a mobile phone charger wearing out its connection.

    – In a traditional pacemaker, there are many wires, and a common point of failure is the connection between the wire and the device. It's aesthetically more appealing when the implant is not visible under the skin, Lundén says.

    Other applications they mention for implants include pain relief and speeding up post-trauma recovery through neuromodulation. That means regulating the nervous system.

    – Over the past five years, there has been a change, and medical technology giants have made smart implants their main goal, Lundén says.

    The SCHOTT Group is part of the Carl Zeiss Foundation and its conglomerate specializing in glass and optics.

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    SCHOTT Primoceler's CEO Ville Hevonkorpi. Photo: Petri Kangas

    The significance of scale

    The SCHOTT Primoceler, employing about twenty people here in Tampere, welcomed the news of the new pilot line in the Tampere region with delight.

    – In the scale of Finland and the Nordic countries, the Tampere region has a good concentration of semi-conductors and packaging. There's a nearby university, medical technology, and photonics. The goal is to have more manufacturing steps done in our own premises or through another local supplier. The closer the collaboration, the easier the communication and component transfer, CEO Hevonkorpi explains.

    The operation aligns with the European Union's semiconductor regulation, which came into effect in September 2023, aiming to reduce dependency on non-EU countries in semiconductor technology.

    According to the European Commission's website, globally, trillions of chips were produced in 2020. That's the number 1,000,000,000,000,000,000. The EU's share of the chip market is currently ten percent.

    Hevonkorpi points out that the difference in manufacturing volumes between their medical devices and consumer electronics is in the order of millions, tens of millions.

    – Medical gadgets are produced in thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. Mobile phones are sold annually in tens of millions, Hevonkorpi compares.

    According to the financial magazine Forbes, just in the first half of last year 2023, Apple sold 26.5 million units of the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

    At the moment, Hevonkorpi cannot name any other player developing glass implant packaging. They are competing against other packaging methods.

    – How do you get new technology rooted in the conservative and slow-changing medical field? It's a fantastic opportunity if you can break into it because once you're in, it's hard to get out, Hevonkorpi says.

    The first products manufactured in quantities using the Tampere technology have been in clinical trials for a year, testing their functionality in the human body.

    – In the manufacturing of medical devices, costs come from quality and quality assurance, not from shaving off the last cent of an individual product, Hevonkorpi concludes.

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    SCHOTT Primoceler developed a glass micro bonding method, enabling the creation of glass packages in millimeter sizes. Photographer: Petri Kangas

    Tekijät yhteen

    EU Semiconductor Pilot Lines are four in number, with a total funding of 3.3 billion euros. Tampere University participates in the WBG pilot as the only representative from Finland. WBG, or Wide Bandgap semiconductors, are materials used in electronic components. According to a press release from Tampere University, they are next-generation semiconductors needed in several critical systems, such as electric motor controllers, battery management circuits, and power-demanding energy systems or 5G base stations.

    There is buzz in the industry at both international and national levels. Heidi Lundén is involved in organizing an event in the electronics and packaging sectors as part of IMAPS Nordicia, aiming to bring together various parts of the design chain. IMAPS (International Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging Society) is a non-profit organization for companies, institutions, and student members.

    In the production chain, stakeholders may sometimes stay confined to their own specialties, and according to Lundén, attention should be paid to chip packaging as early as in the design phase.

    "Our goal this year is to bring together chip designers and packaging designers, as well as photonics experts," says Lundén.

    Business Finland and Business Tampere are partners in the event.

    NordPac 2024 IMAPS Nordic Microelectronics Packaging Conference and Exhibition event will take place in Tampere from Tuesday, June 11th, to Thursday, June 13th, 2024.

    More info at Business Tampere:

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