July 11, 2023

How University of Illinois is creating a unique location for semiconductor growth

Semiconductor professionals are converging upon SEMICON West this week to focus on key challenges affecting the global microelectronics sector. One of those challenges may be finding a location with like-minded companies and talent, which are crucial to growth in the industry.

Photo by APL Engineered Materials

Illinois is among the nation’s leaders in semiconductor workforce and expertise, and at a lower cost than the national average. The state’s unique position as a manufacturing and technology hub, along with its central location, skilled workforce, semiconductor ecosystem, and tremendous research universities, make it a perfect location for semiconductor companies. These leading research universities have built robust pipelines to move technological innovations from university labs to industry application.

For example, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has had numerous companies emerge from its incubator and campus that specialize in engineering products for the semiconductor industry:

  • TipTek makes electrically conductive and atomically sharp nanoprobes for semiconductor chips that allow their electrical connectivity and characteristics to be tested. The company was founded in Urbana-Champaign, where its advanced production equipment and scientific team are based.
  • Cygnus Photonics makes unique photolithographic and photoprocessing systems utilizing 172 nm light sources for research and industrial applications in the semiconductor industry. The Cyngus process is cleaner (more sustainable), faster (fewer steps), and cheaper. The company is located at the EnterpriseWorks incubator.
  • Starfire Industries has developed a broad range of specialty silane compounds which are used as CVD precursors and spin coat liquid polymers that are used for semiconductor dielectric coatings. The company was founded at the EnterpriseWorks incubator, grew in the Research Park and recently greatly expanded into a new 194,000-square-foot facility to ramp up production.
  • EpiWorks was founded in Champaign by University of Illinois Electrical and Computer Engineering PhDs who developed novel material deposition techniques and designs for high-performance III-V epitaxial devices. In 2016, EpiWorks was acquired by II-VI Incorporated and it expanded into a state-of-the-art manufacturing center for compound semiconductors that makes epitaxial wafer products, employing more than 100 technology specialists. The company is now part of Coherent (NASDAQ: COHR), and its Champaign operations include funding support from Apple’s Advanced Manufacturing Fund.
  • APL Engineered Materials, Inc. is a specialty chemical manufacturing company based in Urbana. Since its founding in 1944 by Dr. Scott Anderson, a professor and physicist who worked in the Manhattan Project’s Metallurgical Laboratory, APL has become well known for producing high-purity, moisture-free, and customized performance chemicals, which include applications in the semiconductor industry. The company’s 29-acre site headquarters includes a 122,000-square-foot facility with laboratory and manufacturing operations.

    Photo by Inprentus

  • Inprentus makes custom blazed diffraction gratings used in all applications in which the wavelength of light must be tuned (spectroscopy, imaging, etc.), including semiconductor manufacturing, augmented and virtual reality headsets, and in materials, chemistry, and life sciences research. Located in Champaign, the company graduated from the EnterpriseWorks incubator and has sophisticated clean labs.

The State of Illinois actively supports semiconductor industry growth. It recently passed the Manufacturing Illinois Chips for Real Opportunity (MICRO) Act, creating tax incentives for manufacturers of semiconductors, microchips, or component parts. It also offers substantial incentives in industries including manufacturing, electric vehicle development and data center operations, with strong and dynamic ecosystems in each of these industries.

Talent, location, infrastructure, ecosystem and support all converge in Illinois to create a perfect environment for semiconductor growth. To learn more reach out to Intersect Illinois.

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