Focusing on innovation in flexible electronics during COVID-19
How do you maintain focus on innovation in flexible electronics during COVID-19? Iain Docherty, Director of Operations at PragmatIC, outlines how our team of experienced semiconductor industry experts have overcome recent challenges to continue to deliver our cutting-edge FlexICs at our unique FlexLogIC® production facility in County Durham.
Keep safe and carry on
As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March, it was clear that our manufacturing practices would need to adapt quickly. Unlike other parts of our company, the manufacturing arm of the organisation could not work from home. After discussion with the team we decided that the best way to keep everyone safe and continue to support the business was to split the team, with each group working on-site 2 or 3 days a week. We agreed to work 12-hour days during the Spring lockdown which ensured that, although we reduced our presence in the factory, we maximised our opportunity to successfully deliver on our FlexIC production goals.
Working in the semiconductor industry we have one main advantage in the fight against the virus – wearing full PPE is standard practice in a cleanroom environment. Yet, we know it is important that we are not complacent, and we have put stringent social distancing measures in place. In other areas, such as the Test and Assembly labs, we have utilised PPE such as gloves, masks and visors, plus screens between tool stations and one-way systems.
The restriction in overseas travel has actually been one of the biggest challenges. Many of our tools are manufactured abroad and we have support contracts in place in case of significant downtime and to carry out major product maintenance. As a result of COVID-19, ensuring the same level of support has been difficult and this has of course presented issues. However, our suppliers have been working hard to provide remote assistance and we have overcome any obstacles.
A unique way of working
The fact that PragmatIC is so different to conventional semiconductor companies has proved to be extremely beneficial during this unprecedented time. As our Equipment Manager, Phil Dawson, explains, “FlexLogIC is a unique, self-contained, software controlled and automated system. Everything is quicker – with feedback, changes and improvements implemented in a much shorter timeframe. The processes are managed and controlled by data analysis on a grand scale.”
The team at PragmatIC is also key. Phil adds, “Other semiconductor facilities would typically have operators, technicians and engineers capable of working in only one area, such as Litho or PVD, but at PragmatIC we have technical staff covering all equipment used in the semiconductor process, and the staff we have display a wealth of knowledge and experience like no other. We are very fortunate as our multiskilled team allow us to be highly flexible, meaning we can support and live with fairly radical adjustments to working hours, shifts and team sizes.” Julie Urwin, PragmatIC’s Production Supervisor confirms, “It has been difficult at times working with COVID-19 restrictions, but we have all pulled together and focused on keeping each other safe and motivated, ensuring the FlexLogIC line keeps running and product delivery continues.”
There is no doubt that this has been a very challenging year for most companies and the uncertainty looks set to extend into 2021. At PragmatIC, we are extremely proud of our staff. Not only have we managed to cope during the crisis, our team has actually grown, and we have also made significant improvements to our products. No small feat in the face of a pandemic. This has been achieved thanks to all of our highly driven and very flexible colleagues. Going forward we will continue to focus on ramping up production of our cutting-edge flexible electronics – whilst remaining ready to adapt to any challenges that come our way.