Wafer fabs, microelectronics and royalty.

Royal openings are common in the microelectronics business, so a royal opening of the MEDEA+ annual forum covering the year’s achievements in pan-European microelectronics research, was no surprise. The royal in question was His Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco, and a touch of serenity is exactly what the industry needs at the moment what with talk of over-capacity, over-inventory and slipping demand. HSH is following a noble European tradition of royal openings. Queen Elizabeth II opened no less than three fabs, those of NEC, Fujitsu and Siemens. Not that it did those three companies much good, none of them own the fabs now. The King and Queen of Spain opened AT&T’s fab outside Madrid some years ago, before AT&T exited from the microelectronics business. The Prince of Orange opened a Philips fab which is still going under Philips ownership – clearly an exception to the ill-omened royal opening norm. Where a royal can’t do the biz, a President or Prime Minster can do quite well. Prime Minister John Major of the UK presided over two microelectronics openings, NEC’s second fab at Livingston and the ground-breaking of LG’s proposed fab in Wales. The first closed, the second was never built. Clearly Prime Ministers have no better a record in opening fabs than Royals. President Jacques Chirac of France opened Crolles Fab 2 and, since then, two of the three Crolles partners, Philips and Freescale, have been taken over by private equity funds. Maybe it would be better to get a performing seal.

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