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Home > News > Industry News > Plessey’s LED fab scale-up cou.....

Plessey’s LED fab scale-up could go abroad

  • Author:Ella Cai
  • Release on:2017-09-13
Plessey’s long-awaited LED manufacturing scale-up could be abroad rather than at the firm’s West Country fab, according to CEO and founder Michael LeGoff.

At issue is a London-centric investment community, and a Government that ignores the UK semiconductor industry, according to LeGoff.

“The investment community doesn’t look at Plymouth, so we are looking to local government and the Government.” he said. “We are not saying give us £100m, we are saying support us in more tangible ways than just waving the flag.”

He is thinking of something like last year’s Government decision to insist that “public sector steel contracts must specifically consider UK steel” – including in NHS and council projects.

“The Government gets behind UK steel, automotive and nuclear power industries, but in electronics we are not supported,” said LeGoff. “It could easily say that if a company bids for a local government or government lighting contract, they get discount for UK-manufactured LED content.”

“The US does it, so does Germany, France, Italy and China,” he added. “The thing is, the UK has to buy the LEDs, and if they don’t come from the UK, they will come from Taiwan.”

LeGoff’s frustration is not just on behalf of Plessey.

“We have got smart cars, smart cities and smart infrastructure coming – all needing sensors and CPUs,” said LeGoff. “All this needs to be manufactured here. Why shouldn’t that be here, and not china?

Lobbying governments

A similar call came from Europe earlier this year, when French semiconductor research lab Leti combined with the Fraunhofer organisation to lobby the French and German governments to assist in scaling European intellectual property to production in Europe rather than the Far East.

“Otherwise,” said Fraunhofer microelectronics group chairman Hubert Lakner at the time, “Europe will become what it is geographically, an appendage of Asia.”

Plessey added LED-making to silicon device production when it bought University of Cambridge GaN-on-silicon spin-out CamGaN in 2011/12.

Using its chip-making expertise, the CamGaN intellectual property has been turned into a production process and Plessey LEDs can now match the performance of competitors, without the expense of working on sapphire or SiC substrates.

Plessey PLW7070GA

“Our 7070 [photo right] is coming out on par with Cree’s MK-R in efficacy,” Plessey operations director Mike Snaith told Electronics Weekly.

Because the substrate is silicon, and Plessey has IC-grade lithography in-house, protection diodes and driver circuits can be integrated monolithically should the need arise, added Snaith.

Scale-up is needed now because the firm has only two MOCVD reactors in which to grow the GaN layers necessary for LED production.


“The product is profitable and selling into the US, Europe, China and Taiwan – and the Japanese are looking at our 3535,” said CEO LeGoff. “We have a £7m LED order book and we are gaining traction, but we are still sub-scale because we can’t generate enough sales to cover the cost of the factory with two reactors.”

Space has been prepared in one of the firm’s clean rooms for two more reactors, and two reactors are reserved at the manufacturer.

While UK investors are not interested in funding those reactors, international investors are, to boost their national productivity, said LeGoff.

“I have tickets booked for meetings in the US, China and Taiwan. They want our LED scale-up,” he said, “and if I move production overseas, I then have to question if I maintain development in Plymouth.”

“So why wouldn’t you want to scale production in Plymouth?” he added.