A new ‘national institution’ could be set up as part of plans to boost the UK’s semiconductor industry.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is commissioning some research looking at the feasibility of some new national initiatives which have the ultimate goal of growing the UK’s semiconductor industry, presumably in response to the global chip shortages that have been a pain in the neck for all sorts of reasons over the last few years.
Items on the table for consideration include whether better access to prototyping and manufacturing facilities for chip firms would help, making specialist software tools more readily available for start-ups, and how to develop ‘cutting-edge packaging processes’, or the point in the supply chain where chips are prepared for use.
The DCMS reckons the UK’s semiconductor industry increased in revenue by 95% between 2012 and 2021, but it would like to see it grow by improving the infrastructure supporting it via ‘industry coordination, silicon prototyping, open-access manufacturing for compound semiconductors, advanced packaging and intellectual property.’
“We rely on semiconductors – they are in everything from our smartphones, kitchen appliances, and cars all the way through to the supercomputers that support our weather reporting, energy sector and countless other areas of our economy,” said Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan. “In the UK we are leading the world in areas including design and research. We want to build on these successes and keep our semiconductor sector on the cutting edge. This study will help us meet our ambition and could lead to a new national institution and greater research facilities.”
Every country is having to deal with the chip shortage, the two biggest factors behind which are an increase in demand – since a consequence of the IoT sector is that if you want to start hooking up everything right down to staplers and coffee makers to the internet you’re going to need a lot more chips – and the chaos that has resulted from pandemic related disruption and a deterioration in relations between China and the West.
This update from the DCMS is pretty wishy-washy stuff at the moment, but things could take shape and if there are any levers that can be pulled that will mean firms in the UK can more easily produce chips, what’s not to like?
But while every country may have a demand for chips and the technology, industries and products they underpin, it doesn’t mean every country is in a position to replicate what the semiconductor powerhouses like Taiwan have done. Setting up cutting edge chip fabs is about as difficult and expensive a project as it is possible to undertake – the only thing that currently looks more of an uphill challenge is solving the geopolitical rifts which have in no small exacerbating the problem.