Counting the cost of closure

September 25, 1998

The closure of the Fujitsu and Siemens semiconductor plants in the Northeast of England is bad news for local universities, but not as bad as for the hundreds losing their jobs. The problem is a world glut of computer memory chips, with prices dropping from $60 to $2. Other sectors of the electronics industry are healthy. For the University of Newcastle, the Siemens closure means lost opportunities but it is ready to help rebuild the electronics industry in the Northeast.

Anthony O'Neill, Siemens professor of microelectronics,University of Newcastle:

I was involved in the negotiations that got Siemens here in the first place. One of the reasons they came was that they were impressed with the microelectronics research at Newcastle University. As a result of that the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation endowed a full chair. That will still be there for the future but I do not know whether it will continue to be the Siemens chair. We have three PhD students funded by Siemens - two funded from Munich and one from Tyneside. They get a much better deal than they would from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Siemens agreed to continue the funding. The image of microelectronics is dinted by this. It does not help because engineering is not particularly the flavour of the month as a subject. Siemens agreed to an imaginative undergraduate sponsorship, which we will be losing. For us it is more a case of lost opportunities than real loss.

David Kinniment, professor of electronics University of Newcastle:

Of course we are disappointed that the current situation has made it uneconomic to manufacture DRAM devices at present, but we still have an involvement with Siemens and Fujitsu, as well as with applied materials (an equipment supplier to the semiconductor industry, which has also set up in the Newcastle) and companies outside the region. We have also set up a Pounds 1 million company, the North East Microelectronics Centre, NEMeC, jointly owned by the universities of Newcastle and Durham, that employs a number of engineers on research and development related to semiconductor test and reliability. We are confident that this will provide a focus for our links with the industry and for new investment in the region in the future, probably in activities such as semiconductor device design that attract more value-added products."

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