Posted on Wednesday 13 November 2013 by Ulster Business

Analysis Matrix

Some might say the MATRIX report published in 2008 was ahead of its time in setting the local agenda for Advanced Materials as a key enabler for economic growth.

"Building a Future, One Layer at a Time" is very much what we do in Derry~Londonderry – a global high-technology business uses some of the most advanced materials and nano-scale manufacturing techniques that you can find anywhere on our Earth to produce the "heart of the hard drive".

Seagate Technology is a world leading provider of devices to store, protect and share the world's digital creations, working in a market where demand for storage continues to grow dramatically, powered by the needs of mobile data, video and "The Internet of Things".

By 2020 the quantity of digital information stored could exceed 40 zettabytes, (40 billion terabytes) around ten times today's figure [IDC/EMC, 2012]. MATRIX reports, such as the recent one on Telecoms, continue to identify the critical place this digital arena will have in building Northern Ireland's future prosperity across sectors from the creative industry to financial services and law. In this City of Culture year we have been fortunate to see much of this opportunity reflected in the digital strand, bringing some of the world's thought leaders in fields as diverse as animation, artificial intelligence, robotics and social networking to our city to inspire us to create a valuable and long-term legacy.

Our Springtown facility is celebrating its own twentieth anniversary this year and has grown to be the largest fabrication site – commonly known as a "wafer fab" – for magnetic read-write heads in the world. Today, in any hard disk drive in your laptop, DVR box or the data centre powering the cloud there is a one in four chance that the head was made in Springtown.

We have invested over £1bn in some of the most technically demanding equipment, comparable to that used by the manufacturers of the leading-edge integrated circuits. In a 24/7 365 day a year clean-room operation over 1,300 staff are employed to produce more than a million heads every day. Each year the site contributes over £70m to the Northern Ireland economy.

Advanced materials processing is often energy-intensive; sustainable, secure and cost-effective sources of energy are key to many manufacturing activities such as ours and we welcome the continued attention MATRIX is paying to that topic.

The success of our industry and our site depends on the continued availability of talented and focused individuals with expertise in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), a priority reflected in all of MATRIX's work. It is essential to present young people with as wide a range of options as possible and to that end Seagate has worked with many local agencies to build an ambitious educational outreach programme and strong relationships with schools. A combination of an annual STEM conference, work placements, student and teacher mentoring and school visits reaches more than 1,200 students each year. Seagate CultureTech Junior demonstrated the great appetite for STEM with over 5,000 schoolchildren attending over two days in September.

The partnerships we have built with Northern Ireland's two universities are strong and mutually beneficial and in combination with excellent support by Invest NI have resulted in a substantial increase of Seagate Research & Development activities, based both within the universities and at the Springtown plant. Over the last five years this has enabled us to support entire drive programmes throughout their entire life cycle working with our design centres in Asia. Innovation is at the heart of all we do and we are fully in support of raising awareness of Intellectual Assets as identified by the recent MATRIX report on that subject. All businesses of whatever size need to recognise the true value of their human and knowledge capital for their continuing success.

As we ourselves move towards the next generation of hard disk drive technology – Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording or HAMR – which will integrate optical components into the read-write process, we will again demonstrate that Northern Ireland can address the ongoing advanced materials challenges.

We hope that the experiences we have enjoyed – and continue to enjoy in Derry~Londonderry – will inspire other global companies to follow our lead and invest in a location which is ready to do international business.

MATRIX Panel member, materials technologist Dr Rob Hardeman is a one of the 20 year serving employees with Seagate in Springtown. He also holds a Visiting Professorship in nano-technology at the University of Ulster.

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