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Move over silicon: The importance of the Compound Semiconductor Industry

By Dan Brew, SAE, Jargon Group Cardiff

The impacts of the global chip shortage are still being felt today. The shortage that began in 2020 has highlighted just how reliant the global economy is on semiconductors. From cars to computers and tablets to washing machines, the devices of today simply couldn’t function without them.

It’s an industry now worth hundreds of billions to the global economy and regions around the world are benefiting from the semiconductor boon. Wales is no exception, with an Investment Zone plan for the Cardiff Capital Region being announced as part of the 2023 Autumn Budget statement, with funding from the UK and Welsh Governments. This news is set to turbocharge growth in the region and is just another reason to take a closer look at what is happening in this region of Wales.

From silicon to compound

The majority of semiconductors produced today are made from silicon, they are widespread and the silicon can be easily found. Compound semiconductors differ from their silicon counterparts as they are comprised of two or more elements. Historically, it’s been more challenging to make compound semiconductors due to production complexities and the scarcity of the required materials.

Organisations today are working to overcome the challenges associated with compound semiconductors to unlock their true potential, with positive characteristics including low voltage operations, light emission and high-speed operation. 5G technologies for example benefit from compound semiconductors and clean energy technologies can be improved by utilising the next generation of materials.

The role of Wales

South Wales isn’t exactly becoming the next Silicon Valley, compound semiconductors are of course far more than just silicon. But what South Wales has become is a global pioneer in the area of compound semiconductors as the location of the first dedicated cluster in the world: unsurprisingly perhaps since Wales and the UK are home to world-leading universities and private sector organisations and thus all the ingredients exist for success in this area.

The compound semiconductor industry is therefore one of the Welsh technology sector’s worst-kept secrets and rightly so. Wales is home to a melting pot of collaboration that is not only vital for the future success of the technology industry but also for other industries that rely on it.

Society’s biggest challenges need connectivity and data to be harnessed and that will only be possible if the right technological foundations are in place. The future of the semiconductor industry is being inspired by what is happening right now in South Wales and will be catalysed by the recent announcement in the Autumn Budget statement helping the sector reaches new heights.


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