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Silicon Glen is a nickname for the high tech sector of Scotland. It is applied to the Central Belt triangle between Dundee, Inverclyde and Edinburgh, which includes Fife, Glasgow and Stirling; although electronics facilities outside this area may also be included in the term. The term has been in use since the 1980s. It does not technically represent a glen as it covers a much wider area than just one valley.
Silicon Glen had its origins in the electronics business with Ferranti establishing a plant in Edinburgh in 1943. NCR Corporation, Honeywell and Burroughs Corporation followed in the late 1940s with IBM being a very significant import when it opened a manufacturing facility in Greenock in 1953. Indeed, this was typical of much of the early days of Silicon Glen, which were dominated by electronics manufacturing for foreign companies much more than research and development or the establishment of home grown companies.
The emphasis on electronics came about due to the decline in traditional Scottish heavy industries such as shipbuilding and mining. The government development agencies saw electronics manufacturing as being a positive replacement for people made redundant through heavy industry closures and the associated training and reskilling was relatively easy to achieve.
Like the bedrock of Silicon Valley was in semiconductors, Silicon Glen also had a significant influence in semiconductor design and manufacturing starting in 1960 with Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon) establishing its first facility outside the US in Glenrothes to manufacture germanium and silicon diodes. In 1965 Elliott Automation established a production facility in Glenrothes followed by a MOS research laboratory in 1967. This was followed in 1969 by the establishment of wafer fabs by General Instrument in Glenrothes, Motorola (now Freescale) in East Kilbride and National Semiconductor in Greenock. Signetics also opened a facility in Linlithgow in 1969. In 1970 Compugraphics relocated from Aldershot to Glenrothes to provide photomask manufacturing for these companies. Other companies who developed semiconductor wafer fabrication or other manufacturing plants included SGS in Falkirk, NEC, Burr-Brown Corporation, IPS (then Seagate Technology) and Kymata (now Gemfire) in Livingston, CST in Glasgow and Micronas in Glenrothes.
There were some other notable successes such as the large Sun Microsystems plant in Linlithgow and the Digital Equipment Corporation semiconductor manufacturing plant in South Queensferry where the pioneering 64-bit Alpha 21064 and its derivatives were made. Digital also opened an office in Livingston, developing their flagship VAX/VMS operating system.
The manufacturing sector grew to such an extent that at its peak it produced approximately 30% of Europe's PCs, 80% of its workstations, 65% of its ATMs and a significant percentage of its integrated circuits.
The heavy dependency on electronics manufacturing hit Silicon Glen hard after the collapse of the hi-tech economy in 2000. Viasystems, National Semiconductor (now Texas Instruments), Motorola and Chunghwa all laid off substantial numbers of employees or closed factories completely. The effects of the Viasystems closure are still felt in the Scottish Borders today. Digital sold their Alpha facility to Motorola who eventually closed it down. Motorola also closed their factory in Bathgate and the substantial NEC plant in Livingston was also closed. In 2009 Sun ceased manufacturing at its Linlithgow plant and, after successive years of downsizing, NCR ended all manufacturing in Dundee.
However, there are many promising signs as well as a recognition that diversification away from electronics and manufacturing produces a more balanced and stronger economy. There is also more of an interest in encouraging home grown talent.
In order to diversify away from electronics and manufacturing, the development agencies now see global services as being a potential area of growth, but there is also substantial interest in the software development industry, including Rockstar North, developers of the market leading Grand Theft Auto series. There is also a dynamic and fast growing electronics design and development industry, based around links between the very strong universities and indigenous companies like Wolfson Microelectronics, Linn, Nallatech, Axeon, 4i2i, and IndigoVision, and projects like the Alba Campus. The software sector has also notably attracted Amazon.com to set up a software development centre in Edinburgh, the first such centre outside the US. There remains a significant presence of global players like National Semiconductor, IBM and Freescale. The move from a primarily manufacturing dominated region to a wealth creation one has been successful as demonstrated in a report from UBS Wealth Management in 2006 showing Scotland with more venture backed companies per capita than any other UK region.
In addition to the indigenous companies, Silicon Glen continues to have quite a significant semiconductor design community of inward investment companies including Atmel, Freescale, National Semiconductor, Micrel, Analog Devices, Allegro MicroSystems, Micro Linear, Micronas and ST Microelectronics.
Scotland had 1,000 companies in electronics employing 25,000 people in 2004, this number has been in decline since 2000 when 48,000 people were employed in the industry in Scotland.
Many high technology companies are established in Silicon Glen, including:
- Adobe Systems
- Allegro MicroSystems
- Analog Devices
- Atos Origin
- BI Technologies
- Braindead Ape Games
- Brand Rex
- Broadcom Corporation
- Cadence Design Systems
- ClinTec International
- Clyde Space
- CRC Group
- Dialog Semiconductor
- Digital Goldfish
- Dynamo Games
- Maxim Integrated Products
- Micro Linear
- National Semiconductor
- Oracle Corporation
- Proper Games
- Rockstar North
- SELEX Galileo
- ST Microelectronics
- Thales Optronics
- Toshiba Medical Visualization Systems
- WFS Technologies
- Wolfson Microelectronics
References and notes
- Scotland IS, the trade body for the Scottish IT sector
- Scottish Developers, forum for Scottish software developers
- Pico and General Instrument's 1970 development of a single chip calculator processor chip Possibly pre-dating Intel and TI.
- The death and rebirth of Silicon Glen BBC News
- Open Tech Calendar, free and open list of tech events in Scotland
- CodeBase, largest technology incubator in the UK, based in Edinburgh