Nexperia's deal to buy Newport Wafer Fab in Wales, UK, has been a hot topic throughout 2021. Toni Versluijs, MOS discretes business manager and UK country manager for Nexperia answered questions from eeNews Europe on the deal.
Nexperia went from being a customer and minor shareholder of Newport Wafer Fab to the owner in the first half of 2021 at a time when the strategic significance of semiconductors was often in the news due to shortages of chip supplies at various manufacturing sites. However Nexperia is wholly owned by Chinese company Wingtech, which is itself building a 300mm wafer fab at its base in Shanghai. UK prime minister Boris Johnson spoke about the Newport acquisition and called for it to be investigated.
Newport Wafer Fab had been reconstituted in 2017 as the foundry and development center for a south Wales cluster of compound semiconductor excellence. It appeared to have been making good progress as part of UK strategic technology initiatives.
We started by asking what was the significance and impact of Nexperia appointing two nominees to the board of directors of Newport Wafer Fab Ltd. back in March 2021.
"We had an agreement made back in 2019 that Nexperia would load Newport Wafer Fab [with orders for chips] but if certain conditions were not fulfilled we would have the right to appoint directors. Those conditions arose. The major one was that it looked as if NWF would not deliver the capacity we had agreed. The second was financial. It looked like NWF might not be able to exist much longer."
Back in January 2021 Newport Wafer Fab was reportedly seeking funds to expand manufacturing capacity.
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Did having nominated two directors make it easier to vote through a plan for Nexperia to buy the company? Versluijs pointed out that directors, however their appointment comes about, are obliged to act in the interest of the shareholders of the company they are directors of. "The solution we proposed – acquisition – was the best scenario going forward."
There is a list of around 20 multi-year R&D projects that NWF was acting as a manufacturing site for. These projects encompass a variety of materials and are with several different academic and commercial partners. These included silicon photonics, silicon-carbide, GaN-on-Si for RF, for power and for LEDs and GaN-on-SiC.
Is that research roadmap and Newport's role as foundry hub now in jeopardy?
"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," said Versluijs. "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."
"Nexperia Newport isn't a foundry. Nexperia bought the factory to be a volume producer," he said.
It was previously reported that there may be the opportunity for UK-owned production in an empty building on the Newport Wafer Fab campus, which is now the Nexperia Newport campus.
"We are in discussions on whether that takes place. We can't be sure this is going to be achieved as a fact." Such as facility would share infrastructure with Nexperia Newport.
Next: Time is of the essence