A Pragmatic approach to US expansion
When Scott White, founder of Pragmatic Semiconductor, visited the White House earlier this year it was to discuss the $52.7 billion CHIPS Act, which incentivises microchip manufacturing and R & D in the US.
The headlines around CHIPS legislation emphasise high-end ‘advanced node’ silicon technology. However, recent supply chain issues are often caused by the shortage of lower performance ‘mature node’ chips that are critical components in almost every electronic device.
The CHIPS Act clearly recognises this, with at least one quarter of its manufacturing incentives aiming to address the problem.
Domestic manufacture of these chips is vital, but producing silicon chips is extremely resource intensive – and building new fabs even more so. A single fab typically costs many billions of dollars to build, takes years to be deployed and needs vast amounts of water and energy to operate.
And in the case of mature node semiconductors, these new fabs would then face a significant disadvantage competing against fully depreciated existing fabs.
“Achieving mature node semiconductor sovereignty with conventional silicon manufacturing is cost prohibitive,” says White, “but alternative technologies such as Pragmatic’s flexible integrated circuits – chips that use thin film semiconductors on polymer substrates – offer the opportunity to quickly and economically improve the resilience of domestic supply chains.”
The innovative materials and streamlined processes of Pragmatic’s unique technology enable smaller, more cost-effective fabs in every state or county, offering localised semiconductor manufacturing at a fraction of the cost, time and energy consumption of traditional silicon fabs.
Investments of just tens of millions of dollars can create secure, resilient, dedicated supply chains based on scalable and sustainable semiconductor manufacturing.
A cost-effective route to scalable fabrication
Fab-as-a-Service (FaaS) is Pragmatic’s novel solution for the future of distributed chip manufacturing. It provides the most viable route to scalable capacity, with the option to buy a fully managed ‘Fab-in-a-Box’ for flexible semiconductor fabrication.
Requiring 100 times less capital expenditure than a silicon fab and with 100 times faster process cycle time the Fab-in-a-Box is compact and self-contained so it can be located exactly where it’s needed, guaranteeing high-volume commercial production, irrespective of global chip shortages.
Facilitating faster innovation
Long process cycle times in silicon manufacture often contribute to significant production delays and inventory challenges – even without material shortages or capacity constraints.
By contrast, Pragmatic delivers custom chips in a few weeks as standard, enabling a previously unseen level of agility in hardware design, and reducing inventory holdings by an order of magnitude or more.
“True localisation of chip manufacturing brings further benefits, with huge savings in end-to-end production time, materials inventory and transportation costs via on-site, just-in-time semiconductor fabrication at the point of use,” White adds.
Advancing sustainability in semiconductor manufacture
Alternatives to silicon chips can also address other key national priorities, such as the drive towards sustainable manufacturing.
Conventional semiconductor fabrication requires many environmentally unfriendly processes, using huge quantities of ultra-pure water and specialised materials that require extensive treatment for safe disposal.
Alternative process technologies can remove or reduce these requirements. Pragmatic’s fabrication approach boasts 100x less water and 100x less energy consumption, massively reducing the carbon footprint of both the fab and the resultant chips.
The future is flexible
While flexible semiconductors are not yet suitable for every electronics application, the reduced environmental impact of their production, alongside the uniquely scalable and distributed fab model, makes them a compelling alternative to legacy silicon across a broad range of applications.
“Pragmatic’s flexible semiconductors can already be used for many tasks where ‘just enough’ performance is more than sufficient,” concludes White.
“When this potential is enhanced by our unique ability to localise semiconductor fabrication, it is clear why countries like the US are so interested in Pragmatic’s unique approach to solving their challenges of sovereign semiconductor supply.”
Pragmatic Semiconductor is headquartered in Cambridge with two fabs in the North East of England.