Will North Tyneside fab survive Atmel sell-off?

A really sad story today is Atmel’s decision to sell-off its North Tyneside fab. The plant has had a chequered history, a bit of a rollercoaster ride really. First built by Siemens, the plant came on line in 1997, with the Queen in attendance for a ‘majestic opening‘. In late 1997 the firm said it planned to fully equip the fab and increase capacity to 20,000 wafer starts per month Unfortunately the writing was already on the wall for much of the memory industry, and in July 1998 Siemens said it would cut back on DRAM production, including at North Tyneside. It then immediately announced the closure of the fab. Thereafter followed a period of uncertainty, with various mystery groups being touted as potantial buyers of the fab, including the Blackfriars group and a Chinese telecoms firm. The whole sorry saga dragged on through 1998 as Siemens Semi changed to Infineon, and Fujitsu AMD was considering the fab. Incidentally, at that time the fate of all three of the UK’s big foreign owned fabs was wide open. Eventually Atmel emerged as the white knight, buying the plant with the promise of creating 1,500 jobs. Unfortunately, this was six months before the crash of May 2001, so it wasn’t long before Atmel was itself announcing huge job cuts and a freeze on the UK fab. By 2003, a recovery meant Atmel could start to take people back on, a process that continued through 2004. Finally, as recently as August 2005 the firm said it was committing to the plant with the promise of 0.13µm technology. The fact that the plant has rebounded so many times is testament to staff and local management of the fab. With the buoyancy and promise of good growth in electronics, let’s hope a buyer can be found.

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