Raytheon UK has opened the UK’s first fab able to make chips from the ultrahard material silicon carbide instead of standard silicon, thus aiming to provide devices that can withstand the heat inside jet engines and other harsh environments.
“We’ve been a successful silicon business selling ASICs [custom chips] for a number of sectors, such as automotive, fire and safety and rail transportation,” said Paul D’Arcy, semiconductor business lead at Raytheon Glenrothes. “We took a look forwards, and could see that the traditional silicon technology had some challenges going forward. We could see a decline as manufacturing moves to the Far East.”
D’Arcy continued: “Six years ago, we started looking at silicon carbide, and we worked with universities and startups to do process and device creation. We had a lot of the tools needed already but we made the investment to bring all the processes here.”
Raytheon UK has installed specialist high-temperature production equipment to deal with silicon carbide. “If you look at a standard silicon wafer fab, they use silicon carbide for their tools because it is so inert,” said Ewan Ramsay, design and applications engineer at Raytheon UK. “It’s a very tough material to work with and it takes longer and higher temperature, which points to the modified equipment we’ve installed for this launch.”
The first devices – mainly discrete semiconductors for power supplies – are now moving into production and the company has, as part of the European Union Clean Sky programme developed silicon carbide temperature sensors that will withstand temperatures up to 300°C inside jet engines.