The Royal Academy of Engineering has selected PragmatIC Semiconductor as one of three finalists for the 2021 MacRobert Award, the most prestigious prize for UK engineering innovation.
PragmatIC Semiconductor in the running for the prestigious MacRobert Award
Every year, the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award is presented to the engineers behind the UK’s most exciting engineering innovation.
PragmatIC Semiconductor is recognised for its electronic engineering innovation that takes the silicon out of silicon chips, resulting in ultra-low-cost thin and flexible integrated circuits.
These can be inexpensively embedded in everyday objects from food and drink packaging to medical consumables, a crucial step in achieving the Internet of Things and addressing a range of application sectors including the circular economy and digital healthcare. The technology reduces manufacturing cycle time from months to less than a day, allowing agile “just in time” production of microchips, avoiding the risks and waste of global supply chains. In addition, traditional silicon chip fabrication methods have enormous carbon and water footprints, while the PragmatIC approach reduces this by more than 100-fold.
The Royal Academy citation says: The Cambridge headquartered, County Durham based flexible microchip pioneer has been shortlisted for the development of flexible integrated circuits. Their world-leading innovation takes the silicon out of silicon chips, resulting in ultra-low-cost thin and flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs). These can be inexpensively embedded in everyday objects from food and drink packaging to medical consumables, a crucial step in achieving the Internet of Things and addressing a range of application sectors including the circular economy and digital healthcare.
Conventional silicon based microchips require enormous and hugely expensive fabrication plants to produce the miniature electronics that underpin our modern world. Consequently, manufacturing is heavily concentrated and, as has been seen recently, can lead to critical supply chain shortages and geopolitical tension. PragmatIC has developed a much less complex and costly process that allows microcircuits to be produced locally, with extremely rapid cycle time, and on a flexible film allowing them to be easily embedded in everyday items. Initial use cases focus on item-level digital identification, including product authentication and provenance, improved operational efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, and traceability of healthcare tests and consumables.
The company’s first commercial manufacturing plant is based at Sedgefield, Co Durham, now operating at a run rate of over 250 million devices per year. PragmatIC expects to be producing trillions of flexible microchips by the end of the decade. FlexICs can be produced at less than 1/10th the cost of traditional silicon chips, requiring 100 times less energy and with 1000 times lower impact on the environment.
The PragmatIC finalist team includes:
Scott White, CEO
Richard Price, CTO
Ken Williamson, COO
Catherine Ramsdale, SVP Technology
Neil Davies, VP Process.
The MacRobert Award judges recognised the technology as a world-class example of applied engineering, addressing a pressing commercial and environmental issue and promising a step-change in the integration of low-cost electronics into everyday objects that will allow the Internet of Things to flourish.
Chair of the judging panel, Professor Sir Richard Friend FREng FRS, said:“This is a world-class innovation, promising stunning commercial and environmental gains for the UK and the North East of England. These new flexible microchips offer massive cost reductions in applications such as RFID tagging, and these cost reductions are reflected in a much lower carbon footprint, producing around 400 times less carbon dioxide than the alternatives. Scott and his team are worthy finalists for the UK’s most prestigious prize for engineering innovation, and we wish them luck in the final.”
Other finalists anounced today include Creo Medical, a Chepstow-based business which designs and manufactures highly advanced miniaturised surgical tools; and London start-up DnaNudge, which has created the world’s first service to use consumers’ own DNA to nudge people towards healthier choices while shopping.
About the MacRobert Award
First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award is widely regarded as the most coveted in the industry. Founded by the MacRobert Trust, the award is presented and run by the Royal Academy of Engineering, with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers. For more information, visit: www.raeng.org.uk/prizes/macrobert
Previous winners include EMI Ltd, who in 1972 developed the CT Scanner, a vital medical device that can now be found in almost every hospital in the developed world. In 2002 Cambridge Display Technologies (CDT Ltd) won the MacRobert Award for its light emitting polymer displays for televisions and smart phones. In 2016 the Award was given to Blatchford for Linx, the first ever prosthetic limb with integrated robotic control of the knee and foot.
Over the past decade and beyond, Cambridge innovators have dominated - with wins from CSR plc (now part of Qualcomm) in 2005, Microsoft Research in 2011, RealVNC in 2013 and Raspberry Pi in 2017.
The winner in 2018 was another Cambridge company, Owlstone Medical, creators of the ReCIVA Breath Sampler, the first platform capable of capturing breath samples and analysing them in a robust and reproducible way.
Cyber security company Darktrace was a finalist in both 2017 and 2019.
PragmatIC is a world leader in ultra-low-cost flexible electronics. Our flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs) are thinner than a human hair and can be invisibly embedded in objects, enabling innovators to create novel solutions to everyday problems that are not practical with conventional electronics.