13_01

Analysis: Scotland’s silicon survivors

31 January 2013
By Chris Edwards
Share |

Raytheon UK has installed specialist high-temperature production equipment to deal with silicon carbide in its new fab

During the 1990s, Scotland’s Silicon Glen looked as though it could rival other world centres for chipmaking. It could not compete with California’s Silicon Valley itself but the country looked an attractive choice to a number of Far Eastern technology companies who promised to build and expand plants there.

One-by-one they came – and one-by-one they left... Some were never even opened. Hynix built the shell for its fab close to Dunfermline, but then never moved in. Motorola bought the empty shell in 2000; but later, as Freescale Semiconductor, decided to close even its existing fab in East Kilbride, selling the Dunfermline building to an oil-rig services company, which had it demolished.

Scotland’s survivors are plants that came long before, and lived through the 1990's waves of inward investment and outflow, and which adapted to the competitive environment. Freescale closed its East Kilbride plant because the 150mm wafers it could handle could not compete with the larger wafers used by other plants around the world. National Semiconductor, on the other hand, which built its fab at Greenock in 1969, instead upgraded its fab to handle 200mm wafers.

Semefab, which was originally opened as part of General Instrument at the end of the 1960s as well, moved into making sensing micromachined devices similar to those used in phones and games machines.

Scotland’s longest-living fab, at Raytheon in Glenrothes, is moving in a different direction, using the material silicon carbide to hew out a niche for itself as more standard silicon processing moves to foundries in the Far East. The material is not just extremely hard; it will work happily at much higher temperatures than those of silicon with the added benefit of having a wider bandgap. This difference in energy levels between insulating and conducting states makes transistors and diodes made out of silicon carbide less prone to break down under high voltages than silicon counterparts.

“Six years ago, we started looking at silicon carbide,” says Paul D’Arcy, semiconductor business lead at Raytheon in Glenrothes. “We had this fab and thought, where else could we use these capabilities?”

Working mainly on specialised devices for safety-critical industries, the silicon fab at Raytheon had been able to stay productive using comparatively small 100mm (4in) wafers. “That is currently state of the art for silicon carbide,” D’Arcy says. “We are now up on 4in with silicon carbide. It is a case of ‘when not if’ for silicon carbide to go to 6in, and we have one eye on that.”

An upgrade to 6in would expand capacity in a cost-effective way. D’Arcy adds: “Most of the equipment we are bringing in is compatible with 6in processing. We have installed enough capacity to see us through the foreseeable future but I would like to have a capacity problem sooner rather than later.”

Raytheon is operating the fab as a foundry service, providing manufacturing for other companies, many of them based outside the UK; but D’Arcy says that the company sees the material as an opportunity for the power modules business based in Glenrothes, making the move to the new material more strategic: “The modules guys are actively using silicon carbide to further their aims in sectors such as aviation and in other harsh environments”.

More information:

http://www.raytheon.co.uk/

Share |
Related forum discussions
forum comment To start a discussion topic about this article, please log in or register.    

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1606

"Where would Frankenstein and his creative mind fit into today's workplace? Should we fear technological developments or embrace them?"

E&T jobs

  • Graduate Electrical Engineers

    AECOM
    • United Kingdom and Ireland
    • Competitive

    Due to the diverse nature of our business there are many different teams each with very different responsibilities.

    • Recruiter: AECOM

    Apply for this job

  • Network Innovation Engineer / Analyst - UK Power Sector

    Premium job

    Nortech Management Ltd
    • Birmingham, West Midlands or Pershore (Worcestershire)
    • £30,000 - £35,000 (depending on experience) + benefits

    Network Innovation Engineer / Analyst to join a team of talented technology enthusiasts who design and support the low carbon networks of the future.

    • Recruiter: Nortech Management Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Engineer with Strong telecoms background

    Premium job

    Sure South Atlantic Ltd
    • Falkland Islands

    Sure South Atlantic Ltd currently has a unique engineering opportunity in their Falkland Islands office. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, teeming ...

    • Recruiter: Sure South Atlantic Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Cyber, Communication, Information and Data Scientist roles

    Premium job

    Dstl
    • Porton Down, Salisbury
    • Competitive salaries

    Information is everything. Use it to serve your country and help keep us safe.

    • Recruiter: Dstl

    Apply for this job

  • Production Engineer

    Premium job

    Compact Engineering
    • Thirsk / Leeds / Banbury / Colchester / Cambridge
    • Salary will be competitive and commensurate with experience, knowledge, aptitude and capability

    A Production Engineer with some knowledge and understanding of radiant energy transfer.

    • Recruiter: Compact Engineering

    Apply for this job

  • Electronics Engineer

    Premium job

    Nikon Metrology Europe
    • Tring, Hertfordshire

    Nikon Metrology is looking for an Electronics Engineer to join our Electronics Team based in Tring (UK).

    • Recruiter: Nikon Metrology Europe

    Apply for this job

  • Engineering Manager

    BAE Systems
    • Hampshire, England, Portsmouth
    • Competitive package

    Would you like to play a vital role in managing and implementing the correct governance in order to enable BAE Systems to provide assurance and integrity of supply chain data? We currently have a vacancy for an Engineering Manager - Product Integrity

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Engineering Project Manager - Electrical & Automation

    Nestle
    • York, North Yorkshire
    • c£45,000 + Car Allowance + Bonus + Excellent Benefits

    Nestlé Product Technology Centre in York currently has an excellent opportunity for an Engineering Project Manager

    • Recruiter: Nestle

    Apply for this job

  • Consultant Engineer - Test

    BAE Systems
    • Farnborough, Hampshire, England
    • Negotiable

    Consultant Engineer - Test Would you like to be a lead within an exciting team working on one of the UK's largest defence projects? We currently have a vacancy for a Consultant Engineer - Test at our site in Ash Vale. As a Consultant Engineer - Test, you

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • ELECTRICAL PROJECT ENGINEER

    SSE
    • Reading, Berkshire
    • SALARY: £37,588 TO £55,669 + CAR (SSE8/9), DEPENDING ON SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE

    SSE are looking to recruit an Electrical Project Engineer into office in Reading

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T