Seizing the opportunity of a thriving UK semiconductor industry

Date: 19.05.2023

Topics: Clusters, Supply Chains

How Innovate UK and CSA Catapult are leading initiatives to drive growth, create jobs and foster innovation to support the government’s semiconductor strategy.

Andrew Tyrer, Industrial Strategy Challenge Director – Robotics, Innovate UK and Martin McHugh, CEO of Compound Semiconductor Applications (CSA) Catapult, reflect on the National Semiconductor Strategy and discuss the opportunities it presents to grow the UK industry.

Today’s publication of the UK National Semiconductor Strategy is a solid foundation on which the UK can become a global science superpower.

The UK government has outlined its vision for the nation's semiconductor capabilities, which highlights the crucial role of semiconductors in shaping future technologies, providing national security, and boosting the country's communities. This marks the first time that such a vision has been set out by the government.

Semiconductors: the brains of modern electronics

Semiconductors have had a profound and fundamental effect on society. Semiconductors are ubiquitous in modern life, appearing in washing machines, mobile phones, cars, hospital scanners, and satellites. These essential components are present in almost every aspect of our daily routines.

Semiconductors will enable cutting-edge innovations in quantum, artificial intelligence, 6G technology and, more pressingly, our road to net zero.

Semiconductors allow us to connect, explore and thrive.

The global semiconductor market was worth $430 billion in 2021 and is estimated to be worth $800 billion by 2030.

However, as the global pandemic and geopolitical tensions across the world have recently demonstrated, the market is fragile, and supplies of semiconductor technologies can very quickly grind to a halt.

Outlining the UK’s semiconductor vision

A national strategy that sets out a vision for developing UK expertise and expanding the UK’s role in global semiconductor supply chains could not be more pertinent.

The UK is a global leader in semiconductor chip design, intellectual property, and the development of advanced packaging and compound semiconductors. This expertise positions the country to play a critical role in shaping the future of semiconductor technology.

This expertise is situated in technology clusters across the UK that are made up of world-leading universities, public sector research organisations, SMEs, and multi-national companies.

It is extremely encouraging to see the UK Government acknowledge these clusters of excellence and set out a vision for how we can capitalise on what we do best.

Recognizing the importance of collaboration, the UK Government has emphasized the need to bring together industry, customers, and government to tackle shared challenges, enhance the country's strength, and increase its competitiveness. This collaborative approach acknowledges that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The role of the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult

Established and funded by Innovate UK, the Compound Semiconductor Applications (CSA) Catapult is the UK’s authority on compound semiconductor applications and commercialisation. It focuses on the development of the most advanced semiconductors, compound semiconductors, and how they can be used in the next generation of technologies.

From its base in Newport, Wales, the CSA Catapult’s mission is to deliver long-term benefits to the UK economy. It does this by accelerating growth in industries where compound semiconductors create a competitive advantage and enables new products or end markets.

The CSA Catapult is working towards its goals by implementing a range of initiatives as outlined in the strategy. These include bringing together supply chains, creating jobs, and providing training to scientists and engineers who will lead the way in developing future technologies.

The CSA Catapult is set to expand its operations across the UK, establishing physical locations in Bristol, Scotland, and the North-East. This expansion will allow the organization to collaborate with companies and universities in these regions, leveraging their expertise to drive innovation and economic growth.

The UK is, of course, just a single player in a global industry. Competition with the likes of the US, Europe, Taiwan, China, Korea, and Japan, who invest tens of billions of dollars in their respective industries, is difficult.

Building the semiconductor for the UK and beyond

However, no country can operate in isolation and must engage with others at various points in the semiconductor supply chain to ensure that its own industry can thrive.

The strategy is correct to highlight the importance of forming long-term international partnerships to safeguard the UK against possible disruption to global supply chains as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The opportunity for a thriving UK semiconductor industry is there for the taking. There are significant opportunities for growth and innovation across the industry with the potential for huge economic benefits by supporting companies and growing jobs and skills across the UK.

Our commitment to the semiconductor strategy

Semiconductors are one of the 5 key areas within the Digital and Technologies domain that Innovate UK are investing in.  Funding will deliver on developing new technologies and building the talent and skills pipeline to go alongside this.  This investment is in addition to our responsive activities, Transformative Technologies work, and ongoing programmes such as Commercialising Quantum TechnologiesDigital Security by Design and Driving the Electric Revolution being delivered as part of the ISCF portfolio of work.

To enable a fast start in response to the Governments semiconductor strategy, Innovate has already funded a new £18m semiconductor innovation programme this year. By working with industry and academia ahead of the strategy launch, we are well-placed to deliver on new Government commitments.

Given its expertise in compound semiconductor technology and applications, the CSA Catapult is well-suited to spearhead the development of prototype silicon fabrication and scale-up of compound semiconductors in the UK. We stand ready to offer up our significant expertise to UK industry and capabilities to ensure the vision outlined in the strategy is realised.

The semiconductor opportunity

Sally Roberts, Business Development Manager – Advanced Telecoms from CSA Catapult, said: “The UK’s Semiconductor Strategy is a great opportunity to boost our capabilities and competitiveness on a global scale. Compound semiconductors are a fundamental component of advanced technologies - powering our devices, driving innovation and fuelling economic growth. By building up our sovereign supply chains, we can accelerate the development of new technologies, taking world-class academic concepts through to a huge variety of applications such as telecoms, quantum, AI, and electrification. The commercialisation of these technologies will increase jobs, build skills and foster creativity - paving the way to a more connected, efficient, and sustainable world.”