Partnerships, People

Bridging the CS Gap

ICS supports future materials and devices

The Institute for Compound Semiconductors (ICS) is bridging the gap between academia and industry while promoting the research and development of Compound Semiconductor (CS) devices in South Wales. Here, ICS Managing Director, Professor Peter Smowton, explains how ICS is transforming the industry landscape.

“Compound semiconductors (CS) are a vital part of our modern ‘connected’ world as an enabling technology found in everything from smartphones, TVs and satellites to LEDs, lasers and solar panels. As their name suggests, they conduct electricity under certain conditions and are composed of two or more elements commonly, but not only, from periods III and V of the periodic table.

The UK, and south Wales in particular, is noted for its strength in research and manufacture of CS materials and devices. However, given the huge investment necessary to purchase equipment to test and develop CS materials and devices, many companies are unable to bring their ideas to market.

Plainly speaking, industry cannot exploit blue sky research without prohibitively major investment, so semiconductor device fabrication and testing is not economically viable to the vast majority of companies. This was recognised in a 2012 Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) report that highlighted a perceived gap in infrastructure support to advancing academic research and supporting collaborative R&D projects.

As a result of funding and investment by Cardiff University, the United Kingdom Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Institute for Compound Semiconductors (ICS) was established in 2016 and offers pay-to-use, open access facilities to enable companies to develop their products without having to buy expensive equipment.

The ICS is an innovative concept providing world class fabrication and testing facilities for academics and industrial users to develop and test their research to prepare it for exploitation by industry.

In addition to its investment in the ICS, the University has also formed a joint venture with IQE, a Welsh-headquartered global CS technology firm, to create the Compound Semiconductor Centre (CSC). This critical investment in the ICS and related CS developments in the area represents a unique opportunity to place Wales and the UK on the global CS research map and to create a CS cluster in south Wales.

We believe that there is a great opportunity for Wales and the UK to establish itself as the premier location for CS manufacture in Europe with CS-related companies coming together in the area to create a CS cluster like the semiconductor clusters in Eindhoven, Grenoble, Dresden and Leuven.’

THE ICS

The ICS uniquely offers commercial and academic researchers an avenue to pursue research, as well as product development and testing, without the huge upfront financial investment that would be required to purchase the necessary specialised equipment for such endeavours. The Institute is staffed by experienced process engineers and offers access to a wide range of equipment and services.

My colleague, Operations Director Clive Meaton, is committed to bringing academia and industry together to change the mindset of UK academics in the field, getting them to think about the manufacturability of their research from the outset.

The Institute has grown significantly since the beginning of 2017 and the Institute maintains strong, academic leadership and rigour in its research standards.

Cardiff University boasts an impressive record of research in the field of CS technology. Research generated by some of the University’s leading researchers and their teams is recognised and respected worldwide for its quality and relevance to industry and in investing significant amounts of capital in the ICS itself, the University clearly demonstrates its commitment to promoting and developing CS technology R&D in the region.

There are also a number of CS companies located in south Wales, which, together with the University and ICS, form the basis of an emerging CS cluster in the region. While several companies have been established in the area for many years, new firms have more recently moved to the area, attracted by recent investments and developments and the growing hub.

By supporting industry and working collaboratively with CS Connected and other industry partners, we can create highly skilled, well paid jobs that will help South Wales to thrive.”

Extracts from this post were first published by IngentaConnect in Impact, Volume 2019, Number 5, June 2019. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/sil/impact/2019/00002019/00000005 

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