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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > NanotechnologyKTN > NanoKTN Report Evaluates Issues in the Electronics and NEMS Supply Chain

Fiona Brewer

On 1st June 2010 the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN), one of the UK's primary knowledge-based networks for Micro and Nanotechnologies, hosted its third event of the Electronic Devices and Nano Systems focus group at S2K, one of Europe's leading conferences for the Semiconductor, Nanotechnology and NEMS industry.

October 20th, 2010

NanoKTN Report Evaluates Issues in the Electronics and NEMS Supply Chain

The focus group was established by the NanoKTN to evaluate issues in the supply chain for the nanotechnology sector looking to supply into nano-electronics, NEMS and other related emerging hi-tech sectors.

Through discussions and case study presentations, delegates at the event were given the opportunity to learn about enabling technologies in nano-applications and to discuss areas where key technologies are yet to be established, with the aim of identifying gaps in the market where UK companies could invest and become involved.

Hosted alongside JEMI UK, the workshop at S2K stimulated discussions about the opportunities for UK-based companies to engage in the supply chain and extend business, enabling more applications of nanotechnology to be fulfilled.


Tony Corless
Advanced Technology Institute, University of Surrey
The Importance of the Supply Chain in Commercialisation of (UK) Nanotechnology

Tony gave a comprehensive overview of the way that he viewed successful commercialisation might be achieved, reminding delegates to focus on the fact that the supply chain is where the money is in nanotechnology.

Tony was asked his opinion on whether Universities deliver fully developed technologies and considerable discussion followed this question. Could Universities do this at all? Was there the expertise in a University to achieve this, and was this not the task of the commercial partners also? The conclusion was that the University did not have the mind-set and experience to achieve this alone and that it would be very expensive and possibly lead to a solution that was above the threshold price for that particular technology (what the customers would pay), as the Universities were less well connected to the end user than the commercial partners.

Further discussion centred on ownership of the serendipitous IP and developments as well as how to accelerate the pace of developments to meet commercial needs. The conclusion was that these issues should be sorted out by the collaborative team at the outset.

Dr Mike Cooke
Oxford Instruments Plasma Technology
450mm Si Wafers Enabling a Cost Effective Nano-electronics Age, The SEMI Europe Task Group Review

Mike spoke about the challenges of 450mm wafers from the perspective of being an enabling technology to the implementation of nano-electronics on an economic scale in mass production.

450mm diameter Si wafers are an important step in the implementation of nano-electronics on a commercial scale in semiconductors. The large area results in lower per chip process costs, but is a huge technical and commercial risk for the semiconductor manufacturers and also the equipment and material suppliers all of whom must take on significant developments of their existing products or entirely new product developments.

He started by asking the question why be in the business of 450mm wafer processing at all? and answered this by drawing a similarity between processing large batches of smaller wafers held on large diameter platens to the processing of a single wafer of similar dimensions. This was an interesting development of previous experience and arose out of the expertise in handling of substrates and processing (etch and PECVD) of HBLED substrates which are typically 2" diameter sapphire on 450mm diameter platen and achieving good process uniformity across the whole batch.

The ability to deliver this is key to enabling the reliable processing of these very large Si wafers, and is a serious challenge to many companies in etch and PECVD who are more used to handling smaller 300mmm and 200mm diameter Si.

Dr Adrian Burden
Bilcare Technologies
A Micro and Nanotechnology Business in Security and Healthcare - The Story of a Singapore Based Start-up

Adrian introduced Singular ID (the start-up) and also Bilcare to whom Singular had been sold and by whom Adrian was employed.

Adrian gave an outline of the start-up of Singular and explained how it was completed in 4 phases, spanning the period between 2002 and 2009:
1. The R&D phase
2. The Spinning off phase
3. The Growth phase
4. The exit phase

The technology started up at IMRE (Institute of Materials Research and Engineering)/ A*STAR in Singapore which was a new Institute set up to concentrate the activities of other Institutes in one place. The purpose was to provide a ‘hot house' environment to encourage spin outs and commercialisations of technology developed in the Institute.

Much of Singapore's hi-tech industry has been based around hard disk drive magnetic technologies and the diversification into other applications for magnetic technologies and other technologies all together was another objective. The issue of counterfeiting was also one that Singapore was experiencing and this extended beyond designer clothes to medical and pharmaceuticals, and engineering components also. Interpol reports that around 5-7% of World trade involves counterfeit products.

The solution developed by Adrian and his colleagues was to develop a magnetic tag using nano films with a unique and non clonable fingerprint that could be attached to, or travel with, the product and enable its provenance to be identified very easily at all points in the supply chain. The tag could not be cloned, was completely unique, and had to be pre-set to enable the product to be accepted to the next step in the supply chain, and was low enough in cost to be economically viable as a solution.
Phase one developed the tag and the readers and software to perform the checks by phone from any location worldwide. The completion of this part of the project was successful and was awarded 2nd Prize in the INSEAD Roland Berger Business Plan competition, and was a finalist in the Asian Innovation Awards in 2004. The business plan was written and the IP secured by patent. The market research was complete and significant publicity aided by the awards was used to get the name of Singular ID into the market as well as the license agreement being prepared to commercialise the technology.

Singular ID was sold to Bilcare, a large Indian pharmaceutical group of companies, and has enabled the Singular products to be launched into the medial markets and also through Bilcare's Global operations. The products became re-branded as ‘Bilcare non Clonable' and an extended product range is in development.

Dr Tiju Joseph
University of Surrey/ NPL
The Surrey University KTA (Knowledge Transfer Account) and Opportunities to Commercialise University IP using this Facility

Tiju explained the KTA and how this initiative works to fund students to work with industrial partners either in their own facility, at the University or a mixture of the two. This enables a piece of technology to be transferred out of the University to a company that can commercialise it successfully or for the company to develop their own technology further using the skills and expertise, and facilities, available at the University.

Tiju picked up on comments made by the previous speakers in particular the need to:
• Manage cash flow
• Reduce development costs
• Use students
• Use an accountant early

He noted that the KTA was exactly the vehicle to enable companies to achieve these goals and in particular for SMEs where the funding available was much greater. He cited Surrey Nanosystems Ltd as a case history. This company makes systems and develops technology for SWCNT and MWCNT production. They had used the facilities of Surrey University extensively and this had accelerated their growth which resulted in them winning the "Engineer Spin Out of the Year Award" in 2007.

Several aspects of the KTA funding method were presented including funding for Engineering Doctorates which can be based on work required by the company for £12,000 per year. For spinning out technology, the KTA can:
• Provide seed funding for Proof of Concept
• Support access to facilities for validation
• Perform feasibility studies
• Fund short term consultancy using University staff and students
• Fund design of demonstrators

All these funding vehicles operate on the principle of Co Funding where the company contributes 60% of the costs for larger firms or 25% of the costs for SMEs. He summed up by saying that the KTA should be viewed as a way of funding the D in R&D.

Other presentations were delivered by the University of Bristol, Metryx Ltd and Mir Enterprises Ltd. All presentations can be downloaded from the NanoKTN website.

Analysis of Discussion Session
A discussion session was introduced and moderated by Prof Ravi Silva to encourage delegates to engage in organised debate and discuss and identify potential opportunities and pitfalls/issues in the commercialisation of IP in Nanotechnology.
The principle of wealth creation being based on manufacturing in the UK and not in China was highlighted as a major concern although the discussion directed towards this not being necessary to the success of the company or products by the delegates. Many believed it was important to keep a focus on high end manufacturing located in the UK.

The issue of whether raising finance in the UK is easy provoked a diversity of responses ranging from examples such as the Knowledge Transfer Account (KTA), and other examples of Angel funding and self-funded start-ups. In general it was agreed that funding could be found for the ‘right ideas' even if that was in Singapore. Most felt that for start-ups active in the microelectronics sector, not having UK semiconductor fabs had not been a barrier as Global travel was easy and relatively low cost enabling suppliers to go and meet customers on their own territory.
There was much debate on the topic of funding available from the Government and it showed considerable uncertainty on long term funding and examples of short term thinking in targeting of Technology Strategy Board competitions making it hard to leverage off EU funding. There was a general feeling that Technology Strategy Board competitions were not relevant as they did not focus sufficiently on having end users (customers) involved. For micro-SMEs, the overhead costs of applying was too high and made them a non-starter and many felt there was a need to employ someone to write the applications and this was a barrier to investing and applying.

It is clear from presentations and discussions that there are a huge number of opportunities in the supply chain that will benefit the UK economy, not just those created by the end use of technology. For every job created at the end of the supply chain, there are three to five additional indirect jobs created in other areas. These may be companies making raw materials or equipment that will be used in manufacture, or companies measuring the output of the manufacturing processes, or providing analytical services to those manufacturers.

Support for the whole supply chain and its success is essential for the successful implementation of technology, be it in healthcare, security, sensors, optics or electronics. There remain many gaps and opportunities in the supply chains and meetings like this serve to identify these and help to formulate a strategy to fill them.

Workshops like this are of vital importance as it enables SMEs to meet with research scientists and talk with them about ideas and opportunities. Events like this are crucial if we are going to continue to see the UK nanotechnology market develop.

This event was particularly pertinent to the current market for the equipment and materials sector as inclusion of more of the supply chain has been under the spotlight as a means to extend the economic advantage of the UK from funded programmes as well as leveraging from EU funding and privately funded initiatives.

Additionally the last 18 months of severe weakness in the established IC markets have hit many supplier companies very hard, and throughout that period, growth in this emerging technology area has been a great opportunity for those who have been able to adapt their systems, processes, and materials to it.

Further information on this workshop, the activities of the Electronic Devices and Nano Systems focus group and the NanoKTN can be found at:

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