Can Wales thrive as a silicon superpower post-Brexit?
Wales’ compound semiconductor (CS) expertise needs to go global: that’s according to the British government, which is gathering industry and political leaders at the UK’s largest semiconductor centre and chip foundry Wafer Fab in Newport today.
The country has been making a sustained push to grow its CS industry in recent years, driven by Cardiff-founded IQE, which is a global market leader in the next generation semiconductor technology, which is widely used in smartphones.
CS chips are “atomically engineered” from several elements including gallium, indium, phosphorus, arsenic, nitrogen and silicon, as opposed to just plain silicon.
The movement of electrons in compound semiconductors is far faster than in solely silicon -based conductors, this enables processing speeds over a 100 times faster than traditional semiconductors.
“Vision Must Be Global”
Speaking in an announcement before the event, Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: “If we want Wales to be at the vanguard of the high-tech revolution, we need to up our stakes and our vision must be global.”
The Welsh government and IQE are among the backers of Cardiff University’s Institute for Compound Semiconductors (ICS), launched this year as part of the university’s £300 million capital development plan, with further backing from the UK Research Infrastructure Fund (RPIF) and the European Regional Development Fund.
Speaking in the announcement of the proposed gathering, IQE CEO Dr Drew Nelson said: “The UK has always had a strong position in early stage development of CS technologies, but over recent years we have been building the World’s first Compound Semiconductor Cluster (CS-Connected) to fully exploit the commercial potential for the UK.”
Welsh Silicon Valley
A growing cluster of companies in the region includes SPTS Technologies, IQE, Microsemi and Newport Wafer Fab – saved last year from closure after then-owners Infineon announced their plans to close the factory.
‘’We are developing breakthrough IP in technologies which will form the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution. Working as a unique collective we firmly believe we can create many thousands of high tech jobs in Wales and throughout the United Kingdom…enabling many of our industrial partner companies to introduce innovative products based on CS to the global marketplace,” said IQE’s CEO.
The meeting will be attended by HM Trade Commissioner for China, Richard Burn, who is attending following a meeting with Secretary of State at the GREAT Festival of Innovation in Hong Kong. The UK’s Department of International Trade has appointed Trade Commissioners for nine geographical areas around the world to champion British trade with some of the UK’s biggest economic partners.
In an action plan for the Welsh economy published last month by the country’s government, the government said despite high levels of FDI, “a number of stubborn issues remain, such as economic inactivity, relatively low levels of productivity and uneven distribution of growth and opportunity across our regions.”