It’s amazing what €17 billion gets you. For Intel it’s a state of the art chip plant in Leixlip, Co Kildare, which effectively doubles the manufacturing capacity at the group’s Irish campus.
To underscore the importance of the event Intel not only flew in chief executive Pat Gelsinger for the launch, but also senior vice-president of technology development Ann Kelleher, an Irish woman who has risen through the ranks of Intel to become one of its most senior VPs.
Add in cameo roles from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney and the stage was set for a big launch.
It wasn’t unwarranted. The investment by Intel in the Leixlip plant means the Irish facility is the first in Europe to begin high-volume production of the new technology, the second step in Gelsinger’s pledge to develop five nodes, or generations, of technology in four years. It is also a significant step for a company that has seen some turbulence in recent years, including the most recent round of job cuts and pay cuts for higher-level staff.
Only a few years ago the naysayers had written Intel off as a has-been, victim of its inability to capitalise on the trend towards mobile devices and in danger of being left behind. But the new technology is firmly focused on the future. Fab 34 uses extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV), a process that transfers patterns to a silicon wafer, creating the blueprints for integrated circuits. Using this technology Intel can print circuitry smaller and more precisely than before. That means improvements in performance and power efficiency, and it is being pitched as the future of PCs for artificial intelligence.
The first product to come out of it will be the Meteor Lake chips, and eventually the Irish facility will be involved in Intel 3, the next generation of technology which is manufacturing-ready.
Gelsinger was keen to stress the importance of Ireland to Intel’s future, and the role the “Silicon Isle” will take in ushering the company into the next era of tech.
But that doesn’t mean that the State will pitch for investment at all costs. While he welcomed the investment Mr Varadkar warned that Ireland would advocate against “subsidy wars” – bad for competitiveness, and ultimately costing taxpayers money.