A partnership between industry and academia to create the world’s first Compound Semiconductor technology cluster is set to be launched at events in Westminster and Cardiff next month.
The cluster, which has the potential to create 5,000 new jobs, is based on a joint venture between IQE plc – the leading global supplier of advanced semiconductor wafers – and Cardiff University. This partnership aims to build a centre of excellence that represents a key milestone for the development and commercialisation of next generation Compound Semiconductor (CS) technologies.
The launch of the Compound Semiconductor Centre (CSC) will bring industry and academia together towards a shared vision to create a UK-based cluster for next-generation semiconductor technologies.
Four significant clusters based around silicon technologies already exist in Europe, but CSC – based in Cardiff - will be the first centre to build on the exciting potential of compound semiconductors. These are vital components used in many of today's high-tech applications including communications networks and devices such as smartphones and tablets.
With high performance capabilities, coupled with energy efficiency and photonic properties, CS’s are hailed as a key enabling technology for increased productivity and the key economic growth drivers identified in the European Commission’s “Horizon 2020” economic growth strategy, aimed at the reindustrialisation of the EU.
The planned CS cluster has the potential to create up to 5,000 jobs within the region over the next five years, and would represent a central base of operations for the UK (and wider EU regions) efforts to reclaim high value technology manufacturing from competitors in East Asia.
The partnership will see Cardiff-based IQE plc, whose technology can be found in most mobile devices on the world market, working closely with Cardiff University’s new £40 million Institute of Compound Semiconductors (ICS).
Dr Drew Nelson, Chief Executive of IQE, said: “Semiconductors are the unsung heroes of our modern world. Most people don’t realise that when they’re accessing the internet on their smartphone, the communications networks and mobile phone technology they are using just would not possible without compound semiconductors. What’s more, it’s even less likely they’ll know that much of this technology is developed and manufactured in Wales.
“But technology evolves at a rapid pace. One of the big problems in the UK today in terms of advanced technologies is that a great deal of investment has gone into early stage research that so often goes on to be developed elsewhere. We frequently fail to take the steps needed to commercialise the research and development activities through innovation and manufacturing.
“This is why we are looking to create the world’s first compound semiconductor cluster, and having Cardiff University and the UK academic infrastructure in place creates a very strong basis to enable this cluster to be formed.”
The CSC is jointly owned and jointly controlled by Cardiff University and IQE plc. To date, Cardiff University has contributed £12 million in capital investment to the venture, with IQE committing hardware, buildings, infrastructure as well as licensing certain intellectual property to the CSC.
The ICS forms part of Cardiff University’s £300m investment in new research and innovation centres, and its potential is already recognised by the Welsh and UK governments, who have invested over £29m towards its creation.
Professor Diana Huffaker, Ser Cymru Chair in Advanced Engineering and Materials, recently joined from UCLA in the United States to become Director of Cardiff University’s ICS, said: “The Compound Semiconductor Centre is a unique facility unlike anything else in the UK or European Union. It brings together Cardiff University research in parallel with industrial scale production from IQE and future industrial partners. In effect, the partnership builds a bridge from basic research to commercial technology transfer. Not only will this joint venture help foster education at all levels but it will help create jobs within Cardiff and Wales. The teaming of IQE and Cardiff University is crucial to both sides: the venture allows IQE to try experimental ideas which they really think will be important, while Cardiff benefits from IQE’s business direction. It’s really a perfect union between the two. CSC/ICS will be open for business for any interested industrial and academic users."
At its core, the partnership seeks to overcome the endemic challenges that hinder the commercialisation academic research and development and technology innovations, commonly known as the ‘Valley of Death’.
Collectively, the ICS, the joint venture, and IQE’s existing world class CS operation in Cardiff establishes the core elements of a CS ecosystem in Wales to bridge early stage research, product development, prototyping, and pilot production, through to high volume manufacturing.
Dr Nelson added: “This cluster will take the great research that is being developed and seamlessly take it into high-volume manufacturing. Achieving that will secure a global platform for Wales and the UK.”
Through the CSC, Cardiff University will now have a clear and effective route to commercialise world class R&D to be carried out at the ICS, and will be able to attract significant corporate and other R&D funding, while IQE will be able to take the technologies developed at ICS and the JV directly into large scale mass production.
IQE is the leading global supplier of advanced semiconductor wafers with products that cover a diverse range of applications, supported by an innovative outsourced foundry services portfolio that allows the Group to provide a 'one stop shop' for the wafer needs of the world's leading semiconductor manufacturers.
IQE uses advanced crystal growth technology (epitaxy) to manufacture and supply bespoke semiconductor wafers 'epi-wafers' to the major chip manufacturing companies, who then use these wafers to make the chips which form the key components of virtually all high technology systems. IQE is unique in being able to supply wafers using all of the leading crystal growth technology platforms.
IQE's products are found in many leading-edge consumer, communication, computing and industrial applications, including a complete range of wafer products for the wireless industry, such as mobile handsets and wireless infrastructure, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, base stations, GPS, and satellite communications; optical communications, optical storage, laser optical mouse, laser printers & photocopiers, thermal imagers, leading-edge medical products, barcode, ultra high brightness LEDs, a variety of advanced silicon based systems and high efficiency concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) solar cells.
The manufacturers of these chips are increasingly seeking to outsource wafer production to specialist foundries such as IQE in order to reduce overall wafer costs and accelerate time to market.
IQE also provides bespoke R&D services to deliver customised materials for specific applications and offers specialist technical staff to manufacture to specification either at its own facilities or on the customer's own sites. The Group is also able to leverage its global purchasing volumes to reduce the cost of raw materials. In this way IQE's outsourced services, provide compelling benefits in terms of flexibility and predictability of cost, thereby significantly reducing operating risk.
IQE operates a number of manufacturing and R&D facilities facilities worldwide.
About Cardiff University
Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework ranked the University 5th in the UK for research excellence. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University Chancellor Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff’s flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to pressing global problems. www.cardiff.ac.uk