A former ceramic pipe factory in Durham, now transformed into the UK’s latest computer chip plant, is at the forefront of reshaping the semiconductor industry. From the outside, the facility resembles a sizable warehouse, but within its expansive confines, a state-of-the-art hub for computer chip production is taking shape.
Pragmatic Semiconductor, headquartered in Cambridge, has already inaugurated one production line, referred to as a “fab line” in industry terms. Enclosed within a dedicated room, this production line boasts sophisticated machinery essential for crafting computer chips, with meticulously controlled air quality to prevent contamination during manufacturing.
Having secured £182 million ($230 million) in funding announced in the previous year, Pragmatic Semiconductor plans to construct production lines three and four. The funding comes from diverse sources, including private investors, the government-backed UK Infrastructure Bank, and British Patient Capital, a subsidiary of the British Business Bank. However, the company’s ambitious vision involves a total of eight production lines in the repurposed pipe factory, necessitating additional funding.
The semiconductor industry, a linchpin for products spanning electronics to automobiles, has grappled with disruptions to supply chains amid the pandemic and geopolitical tensions in Asia, where a significant 90% of the world’s advanced chips originate.
David Moore, the CEO of Pragmatic Semiconductor, emphasises the necessity for various semiconductor types to address diverse challenges within the chip sector. Unlike conventional silicon-based semiconductors, Pragmatic is pioneering the development of flexible chips that have the ability to bend. These innovative chips find applications in wearable technology, clothing authentication, and even parcel labels for efficient item tracking.
The unique approach of building chips on a flexible thin film not only proves to be more cost-effective but also significantly accelerates the manufacturing process. Moore explains that while a standard silicon manufacturing facility might take multiple years and billions of dollars, Pragmatic’s fabrication plant is potentially 10 to 100 times cheaper, achieving results in less than 48 hours.
However, the flexible chip is not a panacea. While it presents advantages in terms of cost and speed, the most advanced chips in prominent tech devices will still rely on their cutting-edge silicon-based counterparts. Pragmatic Semiconductor’s venture signals a noteworthy stride towards diversification and efficiency within the semiconductor landscape, pushing the boundaries of traditional manufacturing norms.