Soitec’s global ambitions

By Vincent Fagot

Posted today at 09:51, updated at 13:01

For many manufacturers, the shortage of semiconductors is seen as a catastrophe: in the automobile industry, it has led to the shutdown of factories, in consumer electronics, to a reduction in the volumes produced. But at Soitec, in Bernin (Isère), at the foot of the Alps, the current situation is a godsend. Its turnover is expected to jump 45%, to 975 million euros, for the fiscal year ending at the end of March 2022. “We have more demands than we have the capacity to produce”, notes Paul Boudre, the CEO of the company now valued at nearly 8 billion euros on the stock market.

Read our explanations: Semiconductors: what are these electronic chips whose shortage is disrupting the global economy?

With STMicroelectronics, Soitec is one of the few French players with global influence in the semiconductor sector. Like many of those who work in this sector, the company remains unknown to the general public. In the semiconductor production chain, Soitec is at the bottom of the chain: it produces the plates on which are engraved the components, essential for operating smartphones and other electronic devices. Soitec has developed a technology which makes it possible, by affixing other materials to the silicon wafers, to boost their capacities (performance, energy saving, etc.).

In one of the clean rooms of the Soitec company, in Bernin (Isère), on November 26, 2021.
Silicon wafers, in Bernin (Isère), November 26, 2021.

Soitec has thus become a key player in mobile telephony, where its products are used for all the part focused on device connectivity. “Today, there is not a smartphone, from 4G, which does not use our technologies”, likes to remind M. Boudre.

Large order book

An almost miraculous success as the company, founded in 1992, was very close to going out of business in 2015, when it was still betting on very high performance photovoltaic cells. A failure that would have resonated like a huge waste for a company resulting from the research laboratories of CEA-LETI in Grenoble, where it developed the technology for cutting Smart Cut plates, which today makes it a world leader. Today it maintains a clean room there, a reproduction of the one it has on its own site, to develop its future products.

Quite different atmosphere today. In Bernini, a new production line is under construction. It will be devoted to innovative technologies for the automotive industry. The creation of a new site has already been announced and the location of its establishment, in France or abroad (perhaps in Singapore where the company is already present), should be revealed in the coming weeks. In the next five years, the company plans to invest more than 1 billion euros to increase its production capacity or update its industrial tool and double its turnover to 2 billion euros.

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