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A Golden Future For CST Global

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CST Global anticipates that 2019 will herald a photonics gold rush reports Richard Stevenson

Tremendous optimism is permeating through the corridors of Compound Semiconductor Technologies (CST) Global, the optoelectronics foundry on the outskirts of Glasgow. Shipments are up, head count is rising fast, and right now the order book is incredibly healthy.

To raise the profile of its success even further, showcase its investment in its facilities, and offer details of its plans for the future, the company held an open day on 10 May.

Speaking to those in attendance "“ a mix of leading engineers in industry and academia, investors, Members of Parliament and the technical press "“ company co-founder and CEO Neil Martin explained that feelings of anticipation and urgency were running high in today's photonics industry.

"Before us is a vast gold rush opportunity in photonics technology," said Martin, who argued that it is crucial to prove the feasibility of the technology first, because the company that has done so can capture the market.

"Just like back in 1849 with land, some technology will deliver an obvious, quick return: the gold," claimed Martin. But that will not be the case with all technology, as some developments may never produce a commercial return, while others "may produce oil in years to come."

So there is a need to pursue a diversified technology portfolio, which is the approach adopted by CST Global. At this site, epiwafers are processed into a range of optoelectronic products. Shipments are dominated by lasers that are used in the products of companies operating in the telecom, cloud computing, transport, storage and phone industries.

Martin believes that the photonics gold rush will be driven by opportunities in long-distance optical telecoms, cloud computing, touch screens, facial recognition and mobile communications.

To be in a position to exploit these opportunities, CST Global has been investing in its facility, and it has increased its manufacturing floor space by 30 percent over the last year. It has also spent £1.5 million on tools, increasing automation and throughput by removing the need for both the visual inspection of material and the manual stacking of laser bars. These refinements have helped to propel production to 2 million InP lasers per month.

To maintain its technology at the cutting-edge, CST Global is playing its part in many collaborative research programmes.

"We currently operate fourteen research projects, co-funded by the government and worth over one million pounds to CST Global," said Martin.

He believes that government funding is a major asset, accelerating development and ultimately speeding entry into new technology sectors and markets where there is a race to get their first. In addition, government funding can lead to substantial private investment. "More funding means more feasibility and a bigger stake in the future of photonics."

During the last year, CST Global has doubled its workforce to almost 70, to cope with the growing workload. Recruiting high-quality staff with the skills that enable them to make a contribution from day one is not easy, but the company appears to have the upper hand over many of its rivals.

"Our most common recruitment path is via our university links and the PhD projects that we are involved in," explained Martin.

These links are particularly strong for students at Glasgow University. The MOCVD tool owned by the university is sited and managed at CST Global, and after the students have produced their epiwafers, they can process them in the foundry.

Adopting this approach allows PhD students to gain commercial experience, by developing their technology in an industrial environment. "[The students] rub shoulders with top engineers and produce work of commercial value," explained Martin.