When most people think of Edinburgh’s economy, they think about tourism and the Castle, retail and Princess Street, or the banks and insurance giants that have shaped the city skyline. It may then come as a surprise that Edinburgh has a large and growing silicon chip development industry. Walk the city’s Georgian streets, and you’ll find world-class semiconductor chip companies busy converting investment capital into knowledge and money.
In true Edinburgh muted tones, chip development is not shouted about and can be difficult to spot from the outside. There are few headlines announcing large foreign investments that bring thousands of jobs, no sprawling chip fabrication buildings.
But don’t be fooled, the silicon chip industry ecosystem and talent pool are strong in Edinburgh. The capital city is home to experienced designers, test engineers, sales and marketing professionals who have been through multiple product cycles with companies across the globe. Quietly exceptional, Edinburgh’s chip development firms have been built over generations, working at the cutting-edge of technology on a global scale.
This article started life, like so many good ideas, in an Edinburgh pub. Shortly after Scotland had beaten France at rugby in a World Cup warm up game, my uncle, a prolific writer for Bylines and elsewhere, was surprised to discover so many chip and technology companies were based in the city of Edinburgh. The challenge of creating an introductory tour of the city’s chip industry was laid and accepted.
The rising star of the Edinburgh chip world is the firm Dukosi. Starting life as an engineering consultancy, Dukosi figured out a way to significantly reduce the weight and cost of battery packs in electric vehicles (EVs). A veteran semiconductor CEO was hired and some patient capital invested, attracting local developers. Dukosi now have their own silicon chip product which continuously monitors the use and health of individual cells in EV battery packs. This technology creates a lifetime digital passport for the battery. Residual values of battery packs can be accurately tracked, enabling a secondary market while simplifying the recycling process.
Down by the shore in Leith, another new chip company pureLiFi is developing a silicon product which allows very high bandwidth WIFI signals to be embedded into standard LED lights and received by smartphone light sensors. Funded by local venture fund Par Equity and the Scottish Investment Bank among others, their designs have been adopted into military communications hardware. A new international standard has been created for WIFI light communications and pureLiFi are at the forefront of this emerging technology.
In the shadow of the copper coil of the St James centre, are the former offices of Dialog Semiconductor. A British chip company, specialising in power management for personal computers and smartphones. Dialog designed and supplied chips for many ‘i’ devices. The business was acquired by Japanese chip giant, Renesas, for 4.8 billion euro in 2021. Renesas continue to design and develop power management, wireless and industrial chips in their Edinburgh office.
A short stroll across South Bridge takes you to Quartermile, where Cirrus Logic employs a large chip design and development team, supplying audio, battery management and haptic chips to global consumer electronics brands. Cirrus Logic established it’s Edinburgh base with the acquisition of Wolfson Microelectronics in 2014. Wolfson was a spin out of Edinburgh University’s microelectronics department. Initial funding from The Wolfson Foundation family investment created a chip design consultancy. Further investment from Braveheart Investments and WestLB transformed Wolfson into a chip supplier for TVs, MP3 players, gaming consoles and eventually smart phones.
Map of Scotland hidden in silicon chips worldwide
Chip art is the practice of embedding a fun little graphic into unused space on silicon chips. Hidden from view and buried in the bowels of the circuit board under a layer of black goop, chip art shows the fun side and pride of the design team. Cartoon characters and science fiction icons are commonly found. It may warm the heart to know that Wolfson engineers added a little map of Scotland, less than the width of a human hair, to the chips in many iconic smartphones and music players over the years.
As a chip company expands, growing pains are inevitable. Experienced engineers may leave to start their own companies. Such a start-up was Calvatech. It was set up in 2008 by local chip designers with grant funding from Scottish Enterprise’s Smart:Scotland programme. Calvatech was acquired by US chip giant Maxim Integrated in 2012. Maxim was then bought by its major competitor, Analog Devices, who already had a presence in Edinburgh, having bought Edinburgh Portable Compilers in 1999. Analog continues to develop advanced precision chips a short hop from Haymarket station.
Edinburgh’s New Town is also home to Sofant Technologies, developing a new miniature, high efficiency antennae chip for satellite communications. ST Microelectronics, the French chip giant, has a development office next to the botanic gardens in Inverleith. Indie Semiconductor, a San Jose headquartered design consultancy focussed on automotive markets, is another New Town business, Ouster are developing a new type of solid state LiDAR sensor for use in self-driving cars. There’s a lot of semiconductor talent in Edinburgh.
Hard work and determination
When you walk through the streets of Edinburgh, you are walking through a semiconductor chip development hub. There was no one ‘big bang’ moment that caused the emergence of today’s network of interconnected technology companies within a few miles of The Scott Monument. In recent decades, a multitude of risks have been taken and opportunities seized to create a wave of innovation and growth. One such creative spark was Jim Reid and David Milne’s decision in 1984 to start a chip design company, which gave momentum to Edinburgh’s now thriving engineering industry.
Chip design and development for a global market represents scientific, engineering and marketing work in multiple fields. It takes highly skilled, creative and entrepreneurial people; the hidden heroes of Scotland’s 21st-century economy. Trading with the world and breaking new ground in applications, these firms have drawn employment opportunities to the nation’s capital, bringing healthy contributions to Scotland’s global competitiveness and national wealth.
We need your help!
The press in our country is dominated by billionaire-owned media, many offshore and avoiding paying tax. We are a citizen journalism publication but still have significant costs.
If you believe in what we do, please consider subscribing to the Bylines Gazette from as little as £2 a month🙏