Professor Peter Smowton (School of Physics, Cardiff University) and Professor Hywel Thomas (School of Engineering, Cardiff University) received a £2M underpinning equipment grant from EPSRC, to support the CS Hub.




Main Objectives

  • Procure and install equipment to add metrology capability to the large investment in fabrication equipment made by Cardiff University and partners.
  • Develop well characterised manufacturing processes for compound semiconductor devices and integrated circuits that support high priority applications in Communications and Sensors.
  • Support the objectives of the Compound Semiconductor Manufacturing Hub by enabling more rapid progress and extending the range of external academic partners that can interact with the core activity.
  • Develop an open access Facility for the UK academic community to support the translation of research excellence to manufacturing scale to facilitate linkage to the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult and UK Industry.


Compound Semiconductor (CS) materials are a Key Enabling Technology at the heart of modern society. They are central to the development of, for example, the 5G network, new energy efficient lighting, smart phones, satellite communications systems, power electronics for the next generation of electric vehicles and new imaging techniques. Simply put, these technologies support our connected world, our health, our security and the environment. The next generation of these technologies can only be achieved with a step change in CS manufacturing and we aim to position the UK at the centre of this CS manufacturing research. This is not only an important activity in its own right but will also support systems researchers in all of these important fields.
The step change will be achieved by applying the manufacturing disciplines and approaches of Silicon to Compound Semiconductors and by combining CS with Silicon. This includes developing integrated epitaxial growth and processing with critical yield and reliability analysis; establishing new standards for CS device production, with a guaranteed number of wafer starts per week for key statistical based process control and development via IT infrastructure; solving the scientific and manufacturing challenges in wafer size scale-up combining large scale, 150-200mm diameter growth and fabrication for GaAs based and GaN based materials and apply this to existing and developed advanced processes; introducing a multi-project wafer culture (as is the norm in the silicon world) to share costs and encourage the widespread use of larger wafers by academics and SMEs.
Critical to this approach is the characterisation equipment, which can be used in-line (during the manufacturing process) and over the larger (up to 200mm diameter) CS wafers we will utilise. This proposal is for this characterisation equipment to add to the large investment already made by Cardiff University and partners in epitaxial growth and fabrication infrastructure and equipment. We also ask for apparatus to allow high quality insulating layers to be deposited, which will enable the multi-project wafer approach to produce world leading performance, for access by our UK based circuit and system designers.



The equipment funded here will allow complete processes to be developed with rapid feedback on performance to epitaxial growth and fabrication, which will especially benefit external users of the Cardiff Facility as they will be able to complete their work in a cost and time effective manner. The detailed and comprehensive characterisation data will allow the development of reproducible, high yielding manufacturing processes at large scale (8″ – 200mm wafer size) instead of the small scale one off processes often seen in the research community. It will be complementary to activities in, for example, Sheffield and Glasgow and will directly benefit a large UK academic community working on Compound Semiconductors including groups from Cambridge, Lancaster, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Heriot Watt, Glasgow, Surrey, Imperial, Bristol and Exeter to name but a few.
The importance of this equipment proposal extends well beyond researchers directly involved in semiconductor epitaxy and fabrication technology. For example within UK Universities there are a number of groups (e.g. Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Surrey) involved in the development of microwave and millimetre wave sub-systems and systems that are frustrated by their lack of access to state of the art MMIC processes. The characterisation equipment and work on development of conformal insulating layers deposited by ALD will allow the manufacturing approach used in the Silicon Industry to be applied to Compound Semiconductors. Namely we will develop a generic GaN MMIC process with a well specified process design kit (PDK), which describes how the generic elements can be combined and what their performance will be, and support multi-project wafers (MPW). This enables a whole new set of UK circuits and systems researchers to access this important technology, at a relatively low cost, and to add their creativity to solve problems in e.g. the RE Communications field. Over the 7 year lifetime of the CS Manufacturing Hub grant similar progress will be made for Photonic Integrated Circuits, providing access for systems researchers at e.g. UCL and Cambridge Universities and for solid state Quantum Technology providing a potential manufacturing route for research being done at for example, Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham, York and Oxford.


Impact Summary

Compound Semiconductor materials are a Key Enabling Technology underpinning the operation of the Internet and enabling emerging megatrends such as Smart Phone usage, satellite communications/GPS, Direct Broadcast TV, energy efficient lighting, efficient solar power generation, advanced healthcare and ground breaking biotechnology. Simply put these technologies support our connected world and the future health of the planet.
Our vision is to ensure that the UK’s research strength in compound semiconductors will be embedded in manufacturable approaches so the UK can commercially address the opportunities that compound semiconductors will provide. The global market for compound semiconductors is currently worth around $33.7Bn, with a compound annual growth rate of 17.3%, and underpins 100s of billions dollar related industries from telecom to automotive. Expanding commercial activity in the compound semiconductor sector will provide an important boost for the UK economy and maintain UK advanced manufacturing competiveness. A good example of this is Cardiff headquartered IQE Plc, the global leader in supplying compound semiconductor materials (—£130M turnover).
Our aim is to strengthen the relationship between academia and industry and this will be achieved by 1) changing the mind set of researchers to start from solutions that allow rapid translation to production by providing access to production scale and research tools that are functionally similar along with highly skilled support for the tools and processes; 2) Co-location of research and industry staff to maximise cross fertilisation of ideas, techniques and approach in an environment that supports interaction.
The EPSRC Manufacturing Hub funded translation / business developer together with staff from the Compound Semiconductor Centre will support SMEs through product prototyping, IP generation, skills development and training. They will help bid for external grants, coordinate partner forums, form networks and prepare roadmaps.
Skills Base
The cutting edge equipment operated as part of a manufacturing process offers an excellent training opportunity, inculcating a manufacturing mind set in a UK strategically relevant high technology field. We will embed technological excellence and the latest manufacturing approaches in UK industry. PDRAs and students will participate in high level meetings with the commercial organisations and will work alongside R&D staff from industry. There will also be a direct economic impact via the provision of skilled workers to relevant companies, a feature of our previous projects.
The Hub funded outreach specialist will promote the reach and importance of compound semiconductors and the strategy and activity of the Hub in manufacturing. The specialist and the team will address audiences from school students to stakeholders to politicians. Resources are available from the Hub to train researchers and staff in media interactions and outreach using a range of innovative formats such as performance and theatre production skills.
Knowledge Dissemination
Via conferences such as UK Semiconductors and Photonics West, the latter providing an excellent mix of science and commercial activity. We will publish in open access peer reviewed journals such as those from both the Nature and IEEE stables.
Our aim throughout will be to engage new partners and we will hold workshops, use feasibility funding, actively canvas and make use of our existing partners and contacts, relevant KTNs, the Welsh Optoelectronics Forum and other appropriate bodies to connect as widely as possible.


Underpinning Equipment (will be available post-March 2018)

  1. Atomic Layer Deposition
  2. High resolution X-ray diffraction (HRXRD)
  3. Scanning electron microscope (SEM)
  4. Axio imager
  5. Ellipsometer
  6. Semiconductor Parameter Analyser and Vector Network Analyser and Light Wave Analyser
  7. Electro-Optical Characterisation and Six Axis Positioning System
  8. Spectrum Analyser



Comments are closed