NMI conference offers a sneak peek into the UK semiconductor industry's future
This year’s NMI conference revealed there are a growing number of semiconductor companies in the UK that have the potential to disrupt the global stage.
yieldHUB is a long-time member and was an exhibitor at the event this year. A number of yieldHUB’s customers were also in attendance including Diodes and Clas-SiC.
The two-day event was held at the Ramside Hotel in Durham and covered a range of topics from challenges the UK industry is facing to innovative technology that’s solving real-world problems.
“A challenge we’ve got is attracting foreign investment funding. Ken Williamson from PragmatIC spoke about venture capitalist funding and angel investors,” NMI networks director and office manager Jillian Hughes said.
“I think the investors looking to invest in technology tend to overlook semiconductors sometimes and I’m hoping that will change. The cost of investing in new semiconductor facilities or expanding existing ones require large capital investment. This can be seen as an obstacle for many and is an area where support from the government would be welcomed.
“This may be through tax incentive schemes like many other countries are doing at the moment. This would not only help the existing UK companies but may attract some of the bigger players to the UK where we are currently not being considered.”
She said another issue the conference highlighted was the skills shortage.
“Whether you’re a manufacturing facility or you’re a supplier with two or three employees, there’s a massive skills shortage. One of the challenges is getting the right skilled labor from within the UK or attracting talent to the UK.
“Mr Williamson said it’s been difficult to get skilled people from within the UK or Europe due to Brexit so we’re getting people from elsewhere around the world. Without the required skills and talent, how can we enable technology into the new era? That’s going to be difficult.
“I think there needs to be an initiative where we are going into schools and making them aware of electronics, even at a young age. At Techworks, we’re trying to look at the skills issue and we can’t do it alone so the industry needs to come together with the government.”
MP for Sedgefield NorthEast, Paul Howell, attended the networking part of the evening.
“He is part of the BEIS parliamentary select committee that is taking input from the industry to feed into government so they can get a strategy and policy put together. The proposals will come from industry feedback.
“Ben Walden from DCMS also attended the event and spoke about the strategy work currently being undertaken. They have also been tasked with reaching out to the industry. There are so many different elements of the semiconductor supply chain - there’s R&D, design, manufacturing, assembly, and testing.
“Any strategy document has to take into account the strengths and diversity of our industry, ideally there should be one government department leading this. We need to work as a united voice to ensure the government is aware that we have a growing industry here that needs to be recognized.”
She said while the UK has niche manufacturing technology and capabilities because volumes are so low it may not be recognized as well as it should be .
“I’m hoping that going forward, especially with new materials, the UK will be on that global platform again. We are currently recognized in the compound semiconductor space as we have a 6% worldwide share which was highlighted at the conference.
“This shows when we engage early and invest, we can lead on the global stage.”
Ms Hughes said the world should be keeping an eye on startup companies that stand out like Clas-SiC, Illika, Pragmatic, and Kubos Semiconductor.
“It will be interesting to follow these companies on the next stage of their journey. We should also be following the cluster activity in the UK.
“All my speakers were excellent, but I think Prof. Douglas Paul from Glasgow University stood out from the feedback I have received. I think he did an excellent speech on a complex subject making it very understandable with his facts and figures.
“He was talking about single photon quantum technology to be used in future sensing applications. Making everyone aware of what is being researched and developed in the UK is important. This is an excellent example of collaboration and innovation across the supply chain.”
She said NMI is about bringing the supply chain together through collaboration, innovation, and networking.