The semiconductor industry, a cornerstone of global technological advancement, is currently navigating through the turbulent waters of a widespread chip shortage. Amid these challenges, Ireland is one of the beacons of innovation and resilience, playing a critical role in state-of-the-art semiconductor manufacturing and developing best-in-class talent pools to support the ambition of the sector.

Boasting nearly half a century of expertise, Ireland has nurtured a thriving semi-conductor sector, with a strong talent pool, a well-established network of research institutes and industry players and is also home to Europe’s most advanced FAB. Ireland's microelectronics industry employs over 20,000 individuals, with 15 of the world's top 30 semiconductor supply chain companies choosing to operate there, highlighting the country's importance in the global semiconductor landscape.

Ireland: A thriving semiconductor ecosystem

The Irish semiconductor landscape is anchored by market-leading giants like Analog Devices (ADI), Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm, companies synonymous with technological innovation.

Both Analog and Intel laid the industry groundwork decades ago, with Analog in Limerick in 1976 and Intel establishing in Leixlip in 1989.

In 2023, both companies made strategic announcements pledging further investments in Ireland. ADI unveiled a €630 million ($685m) investment at the European headquarters in Limerick, promising to create 600 new jobs in over five years.

Intel, already with over €30 billion ($33bn) invested to date and employing over 5,000 people, announced their expansion into cutting-edge manufacturing and R&D signifying the largest private investment in Ireland's history, amounting to €12 billion ($13bn) in March 2022.

The results of such investment can be seen in the high-scale production of Intel 4 technology at its new FAB in Ireland, cementing the first use of extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) mass output in Europe. Last year, AMD announced plans to create almost 300 jobs in Ireland as part of a €124 million ($135m) investment in its adaptive computing research, development, and engineering operations. In Cork, US-headquartered Qualcomm announced an investment of €140 million ($152m) at its R&D facility, expanding the office’s strategic functions and creating more than 150 highly skilled roles.

With all these major announcements in mind, it comes as no surprise that Ireland is in the top three locations in Europe in terms of semi-conductor CAPEX, jobs, and the number of projects secured, according to FDI Markets Data, from January 2021 to December 2023.

As well as being home to established entities that continue to thrive, the semiconductor sector remains fertile ground for emerging talent and startups. Driven by innovation and a vibrant talent pool, the nation has seen a blossoming of startups emerge, enhancing industry dynamism and competitiveness. The success of these start-ups is seen through deals such as Qorvo's acquisition of Decawave for $400 million in 2020 and Intel's purchase of Movidius for €300 million ($326m) in 2016.

The country’s semiconductor expertise is bolstered by its strong research infrastructure, with the Tyndall National Institute in Cork and the CRANN Institute in Dublin leading the charge. These institutions are instrumental in pushing the boundaries of semiconductor R&D, with their work spanning electronics, photonics, materials science, and more.

Tackling the ongoing global chip shortage

The ongoing global chip shortage has emphasized the critical importance of semiconductor technology across various industries, revealing vulnerabilities in the supply chain. With demand outpacing supply, the industry faces challenges in meeting the needs of rapidly evolving markets, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and automotive sectors.

In response to these capacity challenges, the EU has adopted the Chips Act, which aims to increase the region’s share of global chip production to at least 20 percent by the end of the decade. The continent will need to rapidly increase capacity across the construction, fit-out, and operation of wafer FABs. This is a highly specialized task, but one that Ireland has experience with – thanks to its advanced semi-conductor space – which could give it an advantage.

Ireland’s universities understand the importance of securing key engineering skills for the future and are engaging in R&D innovation to ensure they continue to develop talent pools. This can be seen in the collaborative efforts of the Microelectronics Circuits Centre (MCCI), Advanced Materials and Bioengineering (AMBER), the Irish Photonics Integration Centre (IPIC), and Connect.

Ireland is developing a national semiconductor strategy, led by the Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Employment, to take advantage of the opportunities posed by the EU Chips Act and meet the ambitions of the sector for Ireland.

The semiconductor industry's future holds immense promise, enabling transformative technologies like IoT, AI, and quantum computing that will revolutionize various sectors, from healthcare to automotive and beyond. With a rich talent pool, best-in-class industry players, and advanced research institutes, Ireland stands at a crucial juncture in this landscape to further fortify the well-established semiconductor ecosystem and leverage emerging opportunities.