PragmatIC Semiconductor – celebrating 10 years!
How time flies! We founded PragmatIC a decade ago, with a mission to create a new type of integrated circuit (IC) that was thin, flexible and ultra-low cost. While it’s fair to say that it’s been a longer journey than we originally anticipated, we are incredibly proud of what we have achieved – a completely new semiconductor manufacturing technology platform, implemented in a scalable manufacturing line, and proven in mass market applications with the potential for trillions of smart objects. And all this has been achieved with a total investment of just £50 million – less than many electronics companies spend on bringing to market a single new silicon IC product!
To print or not to print?
The concept of low-cost flexible ICs (FlexICs) arose from the printed electronics industry, which aimed to fundamentally reinvent how electronic devices were fabricated using additive processing of solution-based materials. However, while this approach was interesting for many large area applications of electronics, we anticipated challenges in applying it to ICs, where we need very accurate and high yield patterning of relatively small and dense features. Moreover, we saw a lot of R&D being driven by “technology religion” focused on printing for the sake of it, irrespective of whether the promised advantages were borne out in reality.
Hence the creation of “PragmatIC Printing” – the determination of whether to use printing or not would depend on the specific trade-offs of functionality, performance and cost. And, because an IC is a complex structure formed of multiple material layers and device types, this trade-off might be different for each. This pragmatism has guided all of our technology development since the start – we didn’t care what process method we used so long as it delivered the best possible metrics for our target use and offered a well-understood route to reliable scaling of production.
Why are we changing the name of the company now?
As it turned out, our original hunch was correct – printing does not make sense for most of what we want to do. In fact, our innovative FlexLogIC process has far more similarities to conventional semiconductor manufacturing, albeit without the expensive silicon or the long cycle time, high temperature process steps such as ion implantation. Even our business model has leveraged significant learning from the silicon industry (such as the launch of our FlexIC Foundry service), although we are able to take advantage of our unique process characteristics to do things differently where required (for example, rapid iterative design tapeouts to support agile product development).
We are therefore using our 10-year anniversary as an opportunity to update our company name. Printing does not constitute a core part of what we do, so “PragmatIC Semiconductor” is a much more accurate reflection of our business and technology. Fundamentally, we associate ourselves most closely with those companies dominating the silicon IC market, although of course targeting a radically different price/performance point and correspondingly different variety of applications.
Have our target customers changed?
No, the name change does not represent anything different in our product offerings or target customers. Our main brands remain the same: the FlexLogIC® fab, FlexIC Foundry™ service, ConnectIC® RFID products, and PragmatIC for the company as a whole. Rather, this change brings our formal name up to date with the reality of our mission: a semiconductor platform that inspires innovators to create extraordinary electronic solutions that improve everyday life.
So, what's in store for the next decade?
Much of our current attention is on ramping production of our ConnectIC family of standard RFID and NFC FlexICs. We remain excited by the huge improvements these products enable in both operational efficiency and end user experience across a wide range of market sectors, from healthcare to gaming to retail, and even in managing waste streams towards a fully circular economy. These applications alone have the potential to support our vision of a trillion smart objects within the next decade.
But we are even more excited by the potential of our FlexIC Foundry. This stops our small design team being a bottleneck in developing new products, instead allowing our customers and partners to turn their own innovative ideas into reality. We are continually surprised by the creativity we see in how our unique technology is being leveraged, often to enable things that we would never have imagined ourselves. We can’t wait to see what others will create with it over the next 10 years!