In the course of the digital transformation, materials for the electronics industry must meet increasingly higher expectations. New computer chips, touchscreens and VR glasses call for the development of entirely new materials. By acquiring Intermolecular, a leading specialist for material innovation, Merck is now addressing this challenge in order to continue to advance the development of next-generation digital technologies.
The secret innovation driver of digitalization
If you ask people what they believe are currently the most important innovations from the digital transformation, then most would probably say robots, self-driving cars, or artificial intelligence, in other words applications that people come into direct contact with. They would probably mention the microchips or algorithms behind these technologies far less. And I’m pretty certain that even fewer of those asked will delve a bit deeper and think of the materials used to produce the aforementioned technologies.
The best example of this are microchips. We’re experiencing a true explosion in data volumes owing to the digital transformation and new technologies such as the Internet of Things, autonomous driving and 5G. The ability to meet the demand for ever more powerful and energy-efficient processors is due more and more to material innovations in chemistry as the physical miniaturization of chips is now reaching its limits.
For example, the three-dimensional microchip architecture 3D-NAND, which offers significantly higher computing power than planar 2D architectures at the same size, has only become possible through the use of the right chemicals. Our Performance Materials business ranks among the leading suppliers of these types of specialty chemicals.
Developing a deeper understanding of materials
Merck recently acquired Intermolecular, a California-based company, to bolster its own expertise and innovative strength in material development. In view of the increasing importance of material innovations, the acquisition is of strategic significance to us. It will help us to further expand the position of our Performance Materials business as a leading provider of solutions for the electronics market. Intermolecular’s powerful analytics infrastructure and broad expertise in the materials research field will enable us to analyze materials and their properties even more precisely. This is crucial to Merck as a science and technology company. We can make better and faster material decisions during the development of new products and noticeably reduce the costs and risks connected to new materials research. However, we will not only use Intermolecular’s analytical capacities internally, but they will also continue to be available to third parties.
Intermolecular’s experimentation platforms and simulation tools enable our customers to test material combinations directly in specific applications, such as semiconductors, without introducing new materials to their production facilities. This will make the identification and development of potential material candidates that have the properties desired by the customer significantly more efficient. Intermolecular also has the expertise to optimize known materials as it can precisely measure the effects of even the smallest changes on the material’s properties. Moreover, through Intermolecular, we can help our customers to find entirely new materials. With Intermolecular’s support, we are significantly strengthening our customer focus. Intermolecular had been working with many of our customers prior to the acquisition, to accelerate their research and development, and therefore knows their needs and requirements very well.
Curiosity and a passion for discovery
Even if the innovations targeted to consumers will dominate the spotlight in the future, no one should underestimate how much research and development work goes into the materials that make these technologies possible in the first place. Innovative materials are literally the basis for digital change and technological progress as a whole. Only with the right materials can the ever-increasing demands placed on the functions, durability as well as the energy and cost efficiency of new technologies continue to be met in the future. Essentially, the key to “even better, even faster, even more economical” couldn’t be any easier. Curiosity and a passion for discovery are needed here – two qualities that are firmly embedded in the DNA of Intermolecular and Merck.