back to article UK's Newport Wafer Fab now under Chinese ownership

The controversial sale of the Newport Wafer Fab to Chinese smartphone assembly concern Wingtech Technologies is done and dusted. Companies House has posted a confirmation statement describing the transfer of shares to Nexperia, a Dutch entity controlled by Wingtech. On Monday Wingtech filed [PDF] with the Shanghai Stock …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A fortune for pennies

    Why we give our IPR and strategic capabilities to foreign actors who are to all intents and purposes rogue enemy states just belies belief. The UK has had its post-colonial guilt trip of being super nice to anyone 'foreign', it should now adopt a more realistic attitude and use a degree of measured cynicism in our relationships.

    1. Insert sadsack pun here Silver badge

      Re: A fortune for pennies

      "The UK has had its post-colonial guilt trip of being super nice to anyone 'foreign'"

      God, yes, ask any Iraqi and Yemeni on the street what they think of the UK, and they'll say "it's unbearable, they've just so super nice to us all the time, it's a constant stream of cream cakes and cuddly toys falling from the sky, when will they stop being so nice and start being a bit more cynical?"

      1. Harry Kiri

        Re: A fortune for pennies

        It's interesting to hear what the younger 'woke' generation think is 'nice'. There's an organisation you need to hear about called Amnesty International. They have some quite good examples of what 'not nice' is.

        https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/ (It's in large fonts for the hard of thinking too.)

        You might realise what a lovely fluffy bunny world you live in, compared to, well most other places. And how you would be treated if you visited there...

    2. katrinab Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: A fortune for pennies

      Their 180nm process node "technology" is more than 20 years out of date, and China can already do much better stuff that this.

      Newport Wafer Fab's output is mostly used in power management chips for cars where I guess it is perfect adequate for the task in hand, but it is certainly not modern or cutting edge.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A fortune for pennies

        It's out of date for pure digital logic, but that's not what they are making.

        People use 180nm for a reason.

      2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: A fortune for pennies

        Not every chip must be 5nm. The 180nm process is perfect for many things.

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: A fortune for pennies

          Sure, but it is not "strategic" "top-secret" technology that must be kept out of Chinese hands. They already have it.

          1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

            Re: A fortune for pennies

            Do you know how difficult is to set up 180nm fab? Imagine if there is a conflict and China destroys the equipment in that fab. This is a huge problem.

            1. katrinab Silver badge
              Paris Hilton

              Re: A fortune for pennies

              China already has 14nm fabs, so I guess perfectly doable if you know what you are doing.

              Obviously I wouldn't know where to start, but I am sure there are plenty of people out there who could do it.

              1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

                Re: A fortune for pennies

                You are missing the point.

                but I am sure there are plenty of people out there who could do it.

                It could take years to set up a new fab, even at 180nm.

                1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

                  Re: A fortune for pennies

                  But thats only an issue if the Chinese decide to close it down. Your fuss and blather are pointless. A 180nm fab is hardly a major strategic asset. Can you name any products the Newport Fab makes that are of strategic relevance to the UK? No? Thought so.

                  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                    Re: A fortune for pennies

                    > who are to all intents and purposes rogue enemy state

                    Wales isn't that bad surely? A few burned holiday cottages and some grumpy local-shops for local people - but not as bad as Cornwall

                  2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

                    Re: A fortune for pennies

                    Wafers

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Re: A fortune for pennies

                      elsergiovolador> Wafers

                      You're not talking boules?

                  3. Phil Kingston

                    Re: A fortune for pennies

                    From CNBC "One NWF defense contract involves developing chip technology for a radar system that would be used in fighter jets."

                  4. gandalfcn Silver badge

                    Re: A fortune for pennies

                    "of strategic relevance" Electronic "vibrators"?

                2. katrinab Silver badge
                  Facepalm

                  Re: A fortune for pennies

                  Sure, buying second hand is cheaper / quicker than buying new.

                  That's why they bought it.

                  This is not the same thing as selling them something that they couldn't possibly make themselves.

            2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip

              Re: A fortune for pennies

              Oh no, there's a war, we need to win it, what shall we do?

              We can only do it by creating a mask for a custom Playstation 2 chip, shipping it to the son of army's leader who is relaxing with retro gaming, and hypnotising him from afar!

              Somehow I doubt creating a custom pentium 3 level chip will be the top priority.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Pint

              Re: A fortune for pennies

              >>>Imagine if there is a conflict and China destroys the equipment in that fab.

              Good grief. Are you drunk?

            4. gandalfcn Silver badge

              Re: A fortune for pennies

              Really? And why would the PRC start a conflict with the UK?

              1. DiViDeD

                Re: A fortune for pennies

                And why would the PRC start a conflict with the UK?

                well, you know, it's the sort of thing "they" are always plotting because ... reasons.

          2. gandalfcn Silver badge

            Re: A fortune for pennies

            "Sure, but it is not "strategic" "top-secret" technology that must be kept out of Chinese hands. They already have it" Indeed, but the Telegraph, Mail, Express and Hyacinth Bucket believe it is.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A fortune for pennies

        "but it is certainly not modern or cutting edge."

        ...nor in any way "strategic".

      4. IvorTE

        Re: A fortune for pennies

        It is not all about size! Newport is strong in compound semiconductors, this differs from standard silicon so you would not expect their fab to be going down the same geometry reduction route.

        Compound Semiconductors could offer order of magnitude speed and power improvements over standard silicon. Today they are being used where silicon can not operate, hence their use in high power and very high frequency radio equipment.

        So do not be fooled by simple nm as a measure of importance. This is potential a big strategic move to let this technology go.

    3. gandalfcn Silver badge

      Re: A fortune for pennies

      I think you'll find tech is being transferred into the UK.

      "super nice to anyone 'foreign'," You mean like the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Libya and Iran?

  2. Insert sadsack pun here Silver badge

    1) Companies House just makes available whatever documents the company uploads. It doesn't actively review, approve or (in practice) audit filings by companies.

    2) the Government can scrutinise and review whatever it wants but unless they have the power to do something about it, it's irrelevant. Johnson said “Thanks to ... the National Security and Investment Bill, we are able to take action", but

    - it's now an Act, not a Bill, because it has been passed by Parliament

    - the relevant powers under the act don't come into force until 01 Jan 2022

    https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2021/25/contents/enacted

  3. hmas

    Usual vacuous bluster from BloJo

    Utility companies, ARM, transport operators, the list is endless. This case really beggars belief though. This should have been blocked on national security grounds.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Usual vacuous bluster from BloJo

      Why would they care? If Pooh hits the fan, they'll just move somewhere nice and laugh...

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Usual vacuous bluster from BloJo

        The shit, certainly according to the comments I see here, has been bombarding the a/c for at least five years now. In that time, how many former prime ministers - or, for that matter, lower ranking cabinet ministers - have "moved somewhere nice"?

        Hard as it may be to swallow, most politicians - of most parties - do care at least as much about their country as you do. It's their home too.

        1. gandalfcn Silver badge

          Re: Usual vacuous bluster from BloJo

          ", most politicians - of most parties - do care at least as much about their country as you do".I don't think so. All mst of them care about is themselves and those who pay for them.

  4. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Huge mistake

    It's not trivial to set up a new fab, often it is prohibitively expensive or next to impossible.

    I think the biggest problem is why someone would like to sell such fab to Chinese (or anyone else for that matter).

    There is a chip shortage and such companies are making a killing. If it does not make sense to do that business here (otherwise why would you sell it) then there is something seriously wrong with the economy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Huge mistake

      >I think the biggest problem is why someone would like to sell such fab to Chinese

      According to its history - which isn't particularly clear, focusing more on the site than the company, it was owned by a Hong Kong based company...

      I think we in the UK are reaping the rewards of decades old Conservative party policy that encouraged foreign entities to invest in the UK, ie. buy up UK businesses.

    2. gandalfcn Silver badge

      Re: Huge mistake

      People sell companies all the time that have been underfunded but have potential. It's called good business.

  5. IvorTE

    I think the author has missed that Newport is a compound semiconductor fab, not a CMOS silicon foundry. So measuring strategic importance in nm is missing the point. CS can offer orders of magnitude improvements in power and speed over silicon even though it is on larger geometries. Today it is used where silicon can not play, ultra high freq radio and high power delivery applications.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No one will remember.....the list is far too long......

    Sopwith, AVRO, Supermarine, Gloster, Blackburn, Short Brothers, English Electric, Fairey, Saunders-Roe, Hawker............

    Then there's the car industry......too many names to mention!

    What about Mullard, Ferranti, Plessey Aerospace, Inmos, Acorn, ICL.........?

    So.....the UK's "industrial strategy" for the last forty years has been "buy it from the cheapest source"......even as that policy hollows out local capabilities.......

    The list is long......the names a distant memory..............and the beat goes on!!!!

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: No one will remember.....the list is far too long......

      Mullard was Dutch owned from 1928.

      Ferranti & Plessey relied too much on UK gov funded stuff and abandoned consumer electronics in the 1950s.

      Yes, Inmos was deliberately sold off by Thatcher.

      Acorn computers were doomed because not IBMs, but they became ARM. Only recently bought up.

      UK Consumer Electronics was dying in the 1960s, largely due to poor quality.

      The UK Competition authority partially killed Ever Ready by blocking their take over of Mallory (later Duracell), but real damage was refusal to modernise and too late adoption of Alkaline. Asset stripped by Hanson Trust and sold eventually to USA Eveready (Energiser) by then themselves owned by a pet food company.

      UK has NEVER had an Industrial strategy. The only money making strategy is to use City of London to funnel money to UK Overseas and Crown dependencies (IoM, Channel Is, Cayman, Bermuda, BVI), as offshore havens. That's why Brexit. The tighter EU laws implemented in 2019 and 2020 and adopted even by Switzerland were agreed in 2016. UK has refused to implement them for Overseas and Crown territories.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No one will remember.....the list is far too long......

        “ That's why Brexit”

        How did the finance industry persuade the majority of those who voted to vote to leave the EU?

        Where there bribes?

        Before the referendum all I heard was how bad everything would be if we left with the moment a leave result being announced culminating in mass economic turmoil and unemployment.

        5 years after leaving It took a global pandemic for the economic shock to materialise.

        I really don’t appreciate being lied to or false truths run down my throat.

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: persuade the majority of those who voted

          30 years of Media and Westminster lies and xenophobia.

          Vote Leave's huge lies now admitted by Cummings.

          Also a process that didn't meet any democratic standards after the mismanaged advisory Referendum. Ask the Swiss about Referendums.

          It's not 5 years. It's 8 months and most of the damaged claimed to be pandemic is Brexit. No shortage of fruit pickers, mushroom harvesters, truck drivers in EU and even NI has no empty Shelves, due to Irish Truck drivers, local production and EU imports via Ireland. CF Holyhead with Larne.

          1. gandalfcn Silver badge

            Re: persuade the majority of those who voted

            But we can sell Stilton the Ivory Coast.

        2. gandalfcn Silver badge

          Re: No one will remember.....the list is far too long......

          "how bad everything would be if we left" so exactly when are we going to leave? Leave means leave, i..e. a hard Brexit not token gestures. We are still pretty much part of the EU and always will be, unless we become part of the USA.

          "I really don’t appreciate being lied to or false truths run down my throat." Neither do I. Which is why I dislike Farage, BoJo et al.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: No one will remember.....the list is far too long......

            Your selective quote::

            how bad everything would be if we left

            My actual quote::

            “ Before the referendum all I heard was how bad everything would be if we left with the moment a leave result being announced culminating in mass economic turmoil and unemployment.

            I really don’t appreciate being lied to or false truths run down my throat.

            Selective quoting is just as bad, you lot twist, misquote and quote out of context to change the meaning of something to suit your narrative.

            1. gandalfcn Silver badge

              Re: No one will remember.....the list is far too long......

              Yes, but you were being selective. The actual claim was when we left. Maybe the odd propagandist claimed otherwise but I don't remember anyone with any knowledge claiming that.

    2. Mike Richards

      Re: No one will remember.....the list is far too long......

      ICI - broken up into a thousand tiny pieces. Much of it now foreign owned by the likes of Norsk Hydro and DuPont.

  7. maffski

    Hot bed of capitalists

    I never realised there were so many shareholders of the company here. It's not *ours* and except for a few very specific reasons it is literally none of our business who they sell it to.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If its a National Security Issue ?

    Then the UK Government should own sufficient shares in it and Capitalism can carry on the way its supposed to.

    The ability to have manufacturing of chips in the UK i think would be a national security issue even if its 180nm.

    In a previous job we made a stupid little board that was 20+ years old and apparently was used by the military, we where not allowed to change the design in anyway and we only stopped making it when we where told we could. It was probably used in a Tank or something. This apparently happens a lot and if those chips are now under the control of a foreign government then we deserve whatever happens.

    For the record though i'm apposed to the slow removal of this countries expertise and more importantly physical ability to manufacture things like this, but if the Government is going to bleat about it then they should do more than just bleat !.

    Not sure why we have an Army/Navy/Air Force anymore when we are losing everything by the back door anyway.

    1. gandalfcn Silver badge

      Re: If its a National Security Issue ?

      "Then the UK Government should own sufficient shares in it and Capitalism can carry on the way its supposed to." If it is part owned by the State how can it be Capitalism? Also Capitalism is basically a failure, just as Socialism is.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If its a National Security Issue ?

        Selling companies should be a matter for the owners, if the Government wants to have a say in the sale of a company it makes sense to me that the interested parties should own part of the companies in question or they should sod off.

        So national security issue becomes "Hi, we own a large chunk and say NO'

        If i own a company making green spockets and the man over the road says i'm not allowed to sell my company to the Chinese , i tell him to do one. If man over the road says he owns 51% of my company and 'No', THEN we start having a conversation.

        So do i own the company or do i need to check with someone else before i sell ?.

  9. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Meanwhile ......the problem and a solution is identified and lauded and rewarded ?:-)

    Perhaps the promised review of the deal will consider that allegation. But with the transaction completed, the UK government will have to take radical action to reverse the deal or find ways to mitigate its effects.

    To intervene now in order to prevent acquisition in order to retain and/or restrain other worldly control of acquired company assets/prime proprietary intellectual property, can easily be very easily imagined and realised as Piracy, and recognised as a Capital Crime and Geo-Political Offence.

    Evidence to the contrary would quickly dismiss, repel and demolish that as a Possible Charge.

    Stepping into Piracy Presents you with Piratical Views/Radical Options with Derivative Futures.

    Which is more a Dominic Cummings type thing for UKGBNI Government Application ..... Energisement, methinks. I can't imagine any politician thinking to float that Private Servering Service to/for Almighty Partners.

    cc via Registered Post... DC .... Re Energisement for UKGBNI Government Applications Energisement.

  10. jwGrin

    Economically Strategic?

    There is currently a shortage of semi-conductors so companies are going to be competing with each other to buy them.

    The article mentions that a US company's order was cancelled. Will this order now go to a Chinese company instead?

    If so, that US company will struggle to build its products and grow or even survive, whilst the Chinese company will be able to continue operations and take the US company's market share.

    So the West overall will get weaker and China will get stronger, even if the UK does not directly suffer as the fab continues operation and the shareholders profit from the takeover.

    I believe that the First Cold War was won more on the relative strength of the West's economies compared to the Soviet union rather than actual military effectiveness or military technology.

    Neither side was able to use their militaries in a decisive way (Korea was a draw, Vietnam was a Western defeat, Afghanistan a Soviet defeat) however the Soviets could not both maintain a competative military and keep its people comfortable.

    China has abandoned the Soviet (Marxist?) economic system which failed the Soviet Union, and have adopted a much more market-based economy which won us the First Cold War.

    China is now competing with us on our own terms, in ways we are not used to seeing as a threat.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Economically Strategic?

      Playing right into our hands.

      We just parachute in a crack team of management consultants form Mckinsey who persuade the Chinese to stop making things, fire 10% of their workforce each quarter to improve the results, and pivot from industrial output into selling themselves financial instruments and taking in each others washing.

  11. tip pc Silver badge

    Sad for the workers there

    Not raining down on the Chinese for seeing some value in that fab, but…….

    If the uk where concerned about losing fab capabilities then we’d be best to invest in a new facility nearby, using more advanced processes.

    Yes, I understand that what they where doing didn’t need more advanced processes, but what would be the advantage if they did use more advanced processes? Less power, more reliability, cheaper?

    An underinvested business using outdated technology that would be best served with a new business doing the same but with new kit. Why waste money on old rope?

    As ever, it’s the people who where important. It’s not easy to just junk years of accrued benefits and start again but the Chinese raised the bar high. Competition in the sector would also be good, raises innovation & hopefully draws in more customers (being ever the optimist).

    1. cornetman Silver badge

      Re: Sad for the workers there

      I don't think there was any suggestion that the company was in any distress or failing. They just got bought by someone with very deep pockets.

      Personally, I think we should be very worried when such things occur. In China, such a purchase by a UK company would never be permitted. At the current time, *any* semiconductor resource is a phenomenal asset. That a US company has found their contract immediately cancelled (presumably to open capacity for a Chinese need) should really raise red flags.

      As a nation, we should stop this stupid Empire self-loathing and realise that the other big trading nations have no such reticence and they will use it against us mercilessly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sad for the workers there

        Agreed; if you want security of supply, you need your own FAB. It does get pricey though.

        But if it's OK for the US to pressure FABs to cancel contracts with companies just because they are Chinese, they don't have much scope for complaint when a Chinese-owned FAB cancels a contract with a US company.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Sad for the workers there

        > That a US company has found their contract immediately cancelled ...should really raise red flags.

        From what I've read, I suspect - being favourable to NWF and their new owners, the contract was getting in the way of a rapid refurbishment/re-alignment of the production facility to address a market with higher demand etc.

  12. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

    Low watt bulb

    Our current Industry Minister seems to be a bit of a placeholder. Like most of his predecessors. Industrial policy is hard. So most Parties don't do it, and hope we don't notice.

  13. Bartholomew Bronze badge
    Pint

    Most IC chips

    200nm process is perfectly fine for most of applications the only areas that I can think of where they would be suboptimal for maximum performance/minimum power usage would be:

    CPU,'s

    memory

    FLASH

    FPGA's

    So 200nm would be good for (literally everything else):

    Clock/Timing (Clock Generators,PLLs,Frequency Synthesizers,Clock Buffers,Real Time Clocks,)

    Data Acquisition (ADC,DAC,Digital Potentiometers)

    Interface(USB,I/O Expanders,Signal Buffers,UART's)

    Audio/Instrumentation/Video/Buffer Amplifiers,Comparators,Video processing

    Logic (Buffers,Counters, FIFO,Gates,Inverters,Multivibrators,Shift Registers, Multiplexers, Level Shifters)

    Power Management

    LED's

    MEMS

    And 200nm process and larger is what you need to use for RAD hardened chips for space (outside the earths magnetosphere) to minimise the amount of graded-Z shielding required or to make the part last longer before failure with the same amount of graded-Z shielding. It is a lot like shooting projectiles at threads or tree trunks, both will eventually fail, but one will take slightly longer.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When things are cheap or "on offer"...

    They get snapped up. Om nom nom nom. (Reuteurs)

    No point crying about it. This has been Conservative policy for over 40 years. And the people love it! Otherwise why do they keep voting for it?

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