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CSconnected semiconductor cluster aims to encompass supply chain

05th March 2020

As part of Wales Week London, compound semiconductor cluster CSconnected held an event at the IET in London, promoting its strategy to build a collaborative supply chain from chip design to end products in a single geographic region.

Hosted by Maggie Philbin OBE, the event saw three representatives from CSconnected discuss the cluster’s aims and achievements before an extensive Q&A session.

Dr Wyn Meredith introduced the organisation: a coalition of companies across the compound semiconductor supply chain, all located within a 60 mile area in South Wales, working together to facilitate high value add manufacturing within the region.

He pointed out that regularly, chips are developed in South Wales fabs, before being shipped to lower cost economies in other parts of the world for packaging, before then being shipped back to the UK to be designed into end products.

The goal of the cluster is instead to offer a comprehensive foundry model through a single point of entry. Meredith described this as “the full technology readiness space,” incorporating partners from both academia and industry to develop products from concept to production without outsourcing at any stage.

Chris Meadows, head of open innovation at IQE, explained which areas compound semiconductor products are particularly suited to. He said not only do the properties of III-V and II-VI compounds “way exceed” those of silicon, they can be used in applications where silicon cannot, for example in LED lighting.

Dr Andy Sellars, chief business development officer for CSA Catapult, discussed the latter stages of the supply chain, with some examples of projects already underway in the region.

One was a collaboration with McLaren Applied Technologies on electric traction motors for the firm’s EVs, another was an already completed project for distributed IoT to monitor rail infrastructure.

During Q&A, the presenters were asked what role compound semiconductors will play in developing lower energy applications.

Sellars pointed out that while energy requirements are constantly increasing due to the proliferation of connected devices, the increased efficiency of compound semiconductors over their silicon counterparts will allow these devices to consume less power comparatively.

Another audience member raised the question of what voltage might be achieved using compound semiconductors in the future.

The presenters were reluctant to suggest an actual figure, however they agreed devices are likely to be organised into three broad categories in the future, with traditional silicon at the low end, compounds like gallium nitride (GaN) in the middle, and silicon carbide (SiC) catering for higher voltages.

Meredith said the barrier to using compound semiconductors in higher voltage applications is met at the packaging level, where it has proven difficult to create a chip scale solution that can be manufactured into end products.

Philbin asked the panel how CSconnected promotes skills in the region to ensure the industry will remain viable in the coming decades.

Meadows said a challenge for the cluster is convincing young people engineering isn’t a “dirty, oily profession”. Sellars pointed to CSA Catapult’s STEM outreach program as one example of how it’s tackling those issues.

Summarising, Meredith described the CSconnected cluster as “a 30 to 40 year project to bring high value add manufacturing back to the UK”.

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