What sort of client base do you serve?
It’s worldwide. We’re an open-access foundry, which means we can work with any semiconductor company that has designs they want to run in a wafer fab, and we have customers all the way from Europe to South East Asia and North America.
How long has semiconductor fabrication been going on at the Newport site?
The site was set up in 1982 as INMOS, a British company set up to introduce silicon technologies into the UK. For the first 10 years we were an integrated device manufacturer, designing and shipping our own products, then we became a silicon foundry under the control of a Hong Kong company. We eventually became a research and development centre for International Rectifier, which was bought by Infineon. They decided to sell the company, and in September 2017 Newport Wafer Fab was acquired by a local Cardiff-based entity called Neptune 6. We’re a private company now.
What sort of support have you received from the Welsh Government?
The Welsh Government has always been massively supportive of us in Newport. When Infineon wanted to sell the site, it was very proactive in helping us to find a solution – which we did. Newport Wafer Fab is the largest semiconductor site in Britain, and both the Welsh and UK Government understand its importance. To build two wafer fabs of our size from scratch in a green field with brand new equipment would be massively expensive.
There are ambitious plans to grow the company and the cluster. How will you recruit the right people?
It’s a challenge that we’ll meet with a mixture of strategies. Some recruitment will be through universities such as Cardiff, supplying graduates and PhDs. We’ll also be upskilling our own people: we have a long tradition of identifying operators and putting them back through college. At the moment, we’ve got 50 of our staff going through further education. Overseas recruitment is also very important: it’s vital that we attract talented people to this part of the world. The benefit of a cluster is that if you’re moving your family from somewhere like Singapore, you’re not confined to one company. In terms of a career span of 20 to 30 years, you might end up moving from Newport Wafer Fab to Cardiff University for a while, or working at SPTS.
What changes will we see at Newport as you expand the business?
We’ll be adding additional cleanroom investment. We have the space to double the capacity and employment count at our site, and we’re already working on the technology streams that will make that happen. We expect this to take place over the next two to three years. We also plan to establish an innovation village, which could potentially generate additional employment of 300 to 400 people on cluster business. That would be our major contribution to the 3,000- plus extra people the cluster is looking to employ.