Ireland set to be microelectronics linchpin
Ireland has the potential to lead the way in some of the most critical sectors in the world’s microelectronics industry, providing the economy with much-needed jobs, an industry expert has said.
Chief executive of Redmere Tony Stelliga said Ireland’s focus on analogue semi-conductors put it in a good position to take advantage of upcoming trends as the consumer electronics sector grows rapidly.
Microelectronics covers the design and production of semiconductor integrated circuits or chips used in laptops, e-readers and wireless devices. The market for analogue devices is very strong and “growing substantially”, he said, and it is an area of speciality for Ireland.
“We’re seeing very substantial growth,” he said. “We’re seeing companies in the analogue space growing at 50, 100 per cent because of the need for high-performance precision vision, video and audio technologies in the new consumer platforms we’re seeing in phones, tablets and smart TVs.”
The microelectronics industry is a major contributor to the Irish economy, and employs more than 8,000 people. About €6 billion in exports is generated every year.
According to new estimates by the Microelectronic Industry Design Association Ireland (Midas), the industry here could create more than 1,300 highly skilled roles by 2015, and plans to create up to 2,000 in total within five years, one-third of which will come from indigenous firms. In the past 18 months, more than 500 jobs have been created. Midas is holding its annual conference in Dublin today. “I think the climate is definitely coming back to the momentum it had about seven or eight years ago,” Stelliga said. “We’re seeing a lot of activity in hiring, and in different types of financing.”
The microelectronics sector has been hit in recent years as the trend for financing has shifted to social media and gaming, as investors sought a quicker or better return.
“That has really caused a challenge in the semi-conductor start-up arena and, as a result, many of the companies have had to find other ways to raise capital,” he said. One of these firms is Spectre 7, which is being created by the merger of Irish firm Redmere and Canada’s Fresco Microchip.
At present, Ireland is the top high-technology manufacturing provider as a percentage of gross domestic product in the developed world, he said, at over 6 per cent compared with the US, which has about half that figure. This is partly due to Ireland’s focus on high-value manufacturing rather than volume.
Ireland not only has the manufacturing focus, but it also has the research and funding capabilities, with Stelliga highlighting the work of UCC’s Tyndall Institute and the presence of supported and focused venture capital as a bonus.
“In value-based manufacturing, where you make specialised circuits, I think Ireland has a great shot at that,” he said. “Also in terms of technology exchange, Ireland is a world leader. That is because of the work it has done to attract worldwide and particularly EU investment into research in areas like that of Tyndall research.”
There is a shift in the microelectronics industry, Stelliga said, towards analogue and micromechanical technologies.
“And with Ireland’s strength in value manufacturing and technology exchange, I think they are positioned extremely well to take advantage of this shift,” he said. “What’s beautiful about the electronics industry is that you don’t have to be big to be disruptive. Every big company that was ever formed started with two or three guys.”