ASML’s Approach to Sustainability, Scalability, and Intelligent Industry: An Interview with Mike LaBelle

ASML is the world’s leading supplier to the semiconductor industry. With the increasing demand for semiconductors, it is important for ASML to be scalable to address the market’s needs. On the 14th of February Flevum and its partners, Capgemini, Equinix and Microsoft, organised a visit to the ASML headquarters, as part of the Smart Industry Network Netherlands (SINN) program.

SINN aims to develop lasting cooperation of executives from the top companies in the Dutch manufacturing, energy, utilities, offshore and production industry. During this session, Mike LaBelle, Director of Engineering EUV Factory at ASML, shared in-depth knowledge and learnings on current topics such as process automation, the implementation of new improvements and ASML’s future.

In an exclusive interview with Mike, we discussed how ASML tackles recent challenges such as the COVID pandemic, sustainability or the impact of the European Chip Act.

Adapting to a new normal
‘’The biggest challenges ASML faced in the last few years? Well in my opinion we might be too quick to forget confronting a global pandemic’’ says Mike.

He emphasizes that the Covid pandemic has completely changed ASML’s perception of what is possible in their way of working. One of the most significant challenges has been adapting to the need for remote problem-solving. Technicians needed to service ASML’s customers while also navigating complex travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, and other safety measures.

LaBelle also highlights the increased complexity of the time not only due to the pandemic but also due to the demand. “On our Veldhoven campus,” he explains, “coming up with a balance of measures to keep our people safe and healthy and operate the business during an environment which saw growing demand, was quite a challenge as well’’.

Meeting growing demand
While demand for chips has been increasing for some time, it is now expected to double by 2030, according to the European Commission’s Chips Survey, indicating the growing significance of semiconductors in Europe’s industry and society. Meeting this escalating demand will be a challenge, especially in light of the current semiconductor supply crisis. To tackle this issue and boost Europe’s technological leadership, the EU has introduced the European Chips Act. The Act aims to address semiconductor shortages and ensure that Europe produces 20% of the global chip production.

According to Mike, this is a game-changer for ASML: “We see the geographic footprint of our customer base spreading out, so we need to have installation teams in more places at the same time. This also means our customers are bringing new fabs online or expanding existing fabs and we need to support them to get their facilities and infrastructure in place.’’ On the one hand, this requires increased flexibility from ASML’s side to adapt to new locations, on the other hand, it also comes with the advantage of having customers closer to home, resulting in a quicker reaction time, to be on-site at the customer when needed.

Scalability: having a transparent relationship with customers and suppliers
The importance of suppliers in meeting growth ambitions cannot be overemphasized. ASML understands that they cannot make the ramp without them. Thus, Mike meets weekly with a few key suppliers and discusses the supply and demand planning, technical issues, and growth plans in detail. Considering the global supply chain challenges, ASML needs to do this operationally which means meeting daily with many of their suppliers to track and trace delivery statuses as well. ‘’We also need to look for opportunities where ASML can help. For example, there may be component shortages in a supplier’s n-tier, and ASML might have different paths to access the inventory of this component,’’ says Mike. He points out that ASML also needs to be aware of areas where they are the bottleneck to a supplier’s ability to ramp. For example, production tooling developed by ASML needs to be duplicated on the supplier’s shop floor to increase capacity.

Furthermore, having a transparent relationship with suppliers is essential. “When plans can quickly change, it is very important not to be dependent on a solid plan but to have the mindset, commitment, and creativity to cope with change. Finding a thrill in the challenge is in the DNA at ASML, so people will step up when needed.”

Embracing sustainability and innovation
Sustainability has become a critical requirement for all industries, including the semiconductor industry. ASML has made great strides in reusing material and reducing energy consumption.

One of the challenges the company faces is the risk of scrap due to obsolescence. To drive productivity at customer sites, hardware upgrades are often necessary, creating a risk of material waste. As Mike says: ‘’Finding creative ways to re-use this material is necessary to support the environment and even comes with a business benefit when we are able to harvest material which is scarce in the supply chain.’’ One example is the buckets that catch the tin waste from the tin catchment systems in EUV lithography machines. Normally the waste and bucket would be discarded but thanks to creative thinking, ASML worked out a way to extract the tin from the waste and reuse the buckets after.

In addition to reusing materials, ASML is also focused on reducing energy consumption during the chip production process. Given that chip production is an energy-intensive process, the company is committed to finding ways to minimize energy consumption and even developing methods to reclaim energy from its systems.

Intelligent industry: automating to add value
With the company’s growth, one of the most significant challenges that ASML faces is finding information and connecting to the right people. The amount of information that needs to be processed is increasing. For technical problem-solving, ASML has long depended on “tribal knowledge”. To address this challenge, the company is now deploying methods to clarify, consolidate, and deploy this knowledge instantly to the engineers doing the diagnosis at the system. By making the information readily available, engineers can make more informed decisions quickly and with confidence.

‘’On the more practical side, deploying LEAN and visual management makes clear how we are performing’’ shares Mike. Visual management is a way of communicating information in visual signals rather than texts. It ensures that processes are in control, and corrective actions are taken promptly if necessary. This enables the company to react quickly, maximize its reaction time, and remain agile in the face of demand changes.

ASML’s approach to sustainability and intelligent industry reflects its commitment to innovation and growth. By embracing new technologies and finding creative ways to reuse materials, the company can minimize its environmental footprint while driving productivity and profitability. With their focus on the intelligence industry, they are well-positioned to take on the challenges of an ever-changing market and remain a leader in the semiconductor industry.

The SINN network
Manufacturers are facing unprecedented challenges, including the global pandemic, increasing customer expectations, supply chain disruptions, and geopolitical risks. To address these pressing issues and promote digital transformation, the Smart Industry Network Netherlands was established. As a collaborative effort between Capgemini, Equinix, Flevum and Microsoft, the network aims to promote digital transformation and resilience within the industry by focusing on topics such as local supply chains, sustainability, talent management, and innovation.

By bringing industry peers together, the community enables members to share experiences, learn from each other’s best practices, and embrace intelligent products and services to stay competitive in the rapidly evolving (ever-evolving) manufacturing landscape.

Are you an executive in the Dutch manufacturing, energy, utilities, offshore and process industry? And are you interested in sharing your own experience, learnings and knowledge of the industry with peers? Join us on September 14 at NXP with a presentation by Maurice Geraets, Executive Director at NXP. You can sign up here.

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