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Will the SiC foundry in Glenrothes have a wider impact?

Readers of a certain vintage may remember the efforts made to enliven the Scottish economy in the 1980s by attracting inward investment. Electronics companies were top of the list and a range of companies moved in – NEC built a fab, Compaq and IBM built PC plants and so on.

Three technology 'hot spots' emerged – Livingstone, East Kilbride and Glenrothes. However, times changed and companies moved on fairly swiftly.

Similar mistakes were made in the 1990s, when the likes of LG, Fujitsu and Siemens were enticed to build fabs in the the North of England, only to depart just as quickly. Around the same time, the Alba Centre in Scotland came and went.

Glenrothes is back in the news again following the opening by Raytheon of a silicon carbide foundry. The company claims the £3.5million it has invested along with the Technology Strategy Board will put the UK in a 'leading position' to exploit the material.

Electronics materials are a hot topic at the moment. Alongside the 'feeding frenzy' around the potential of graphene, there has been growing interest during the last couple of years in the potential of silicon carbide – primarily for application in power electronics devices, but also in leds. The attraction of SiC is that it can tolerate higher temperatures and higher voltages than silicon.

The trick will be to make the most of the investment. Three decades ago, the inward investments were essentially screwdriver operations; companies stayed only as long as they had a financial incentive; when it became more attractive, assembly moved somewhere with lower costs. Because those investments generally failed to create an ecosystem, there were no long term benefits.

Raytheon isn't a newcomer to Glenrothes and its investment will create jobs, although no numbers have been given as yet. But the important thing is that it will be offering apprentices, undergraduates, graduates and PhD students the opportunity to work with next generation semiconductor technology and to develop their expertise. Will this investment live up to its potential or will it be another case of 'what goes around, comes around'?

Graham Pitcher

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