Plans for independent R&D fab within Newport campus “have momentum”

Plans for independent R&D fab within Newport campus “have momentum”

Business news |
By Peter Clarke

Power discretes, small signal transistor and logic maker Nexperia BV (Nijmegen, The Netherlands), which is owned by Chinese company Wingtech Technology Co. Ltd. (Shanghai, China), recently acquired Newport Wafer Fab Ltd. for an undisclosed sum (see Wingtech says Newport Wafer Fab deal is done).

However, the move raised concerns because Newport is arguably the largest wafer fab in the UK and had been serving as the manufacturing centre for a cluster of strategic research activities in compound semiconductors and silicon photonics. The Chinese ownership of Nexperia raised political concerns around the takeover prompting an investigation (see UK government will investigate takeover of Newport Wafer Fab).

In an interview with eeNews Europe Versluijs, who serves as the managing director of the Nexperia-Newport factory, said that although Nexperia wanted to use the factory for volume production of power MOSFETs it would honour all the current R&D contracts with a view to transitioning work to an independent fab within an empty building on the Newport site.

Many of these contracts are multi-year projects focused on GaN-on-Si, silicon-carbide and silicon photonics extending through to 2022, 2023 and in some cases 2024.

“We are continuing the projects. We will respect the contracts. We have offered to continue all of them. It is up to the cluster partners,” Versluijs told eeNews Europe, in the interview. “The second thing we have done is agreed with the seller that he will be put in a position to start a new wafer fab for compound semiconductors and photonics; to pick up some of the contracts.”

Next: Nelson

Drew Nelson, CEO of engineered wafer supplier IQE plc, has been active in the creation of the compound semiconductor initiative. He was on the board of directors of Newport Wafer Fab Ltd. prior to its acquisition. He stood down from that role on July 5, 2021 and is named as the sole director of a new company, NWF 10 Ltd., formed on the same day. The company is also referred to as Newport Wafer Fab 10 Ltd.

It is thought that the number 10 refers to the original fab building at Newport that could provide a cleanroom for an R&D wafer fab that would be independent of Nexperia but share chip-making infrastructure.

Versluijs said Nexperia is in discussions about the creation of such a wafer fab but could not guarantee it would happen. Funds will need to be found, personnel recruited, chip making equipment acquired and then work done to re-fit the cleanroom. Versluijs acknowledged that it could take time but said that Nexperia’s continued support of the R&D could provide a period for the transition.

“We want the cluster to succeed. NWF10 coming into operation is the best way forward. We believe this is a very elegant way to support the compound semiconductor cluster. It’s the most logical way forward.”

Versluijs would not be drawn on whether Nexperia could provide financial support to a separate and independent R&D wafer fab within the Nexperia-Newport campus. Financial aid could be in the form of hard cash, or support-in-kind in the form of a subsidized rent for buildings and the use of infrastructure.

The plan could go some way to alleviating political concerns over the takeover but it will also likely put pressure on the UK and Welsh governments to find additional money for reworked center of compound semiconductor excellence.

Related links and articles:

News articles:

Nexperia’s Toni Versluijs takes questions on the Newport deal

Wingtech says Newport Wafer Fab deal is done

China’s Nexperia buys Newport Wafer Fab amid concerns

UK government will investigate takeover of Newport Wafer Fab

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