SANTA CLARA – Silicon Valley adds another distinction to its list of technical achievements this week: The semiconductor capital is now a producer of diamonds. Synthetic diamond maker Element Six formally opened its first U.S. plant here and could be shipping product as early as June.
Element Six expects to hire about 20 people for the highly automated facility which uses a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) process. The company will spend up to $10 million on the 20,000 square foot plant that can produce several million dollars worth of synthetic diamonds per year.
The CVD process involves injecting gases and microwave energy into a vacuum chamber to grow the diamond materials on a substrate. The diamonds are used in a wide range of applications including an expanding set of them in electronics-related industries.
Large single-crystal diamonds help create extrusions of very thin wires used in state-of-the art DRAM traces. Other diamond materials serve as thermal heat spreaders for telecom and power semiconductor components. Some high powered lasers also use Element Six’s synthetic diamonds.
“A large portion of our new markets have decision makers in North America,” said Adrian Wilson, head of technologies for Element Six that previously operated just one plant in England.
“There are number of opportunities for military applications, and to be a supplier to the U.S. military you have to have manufacturing in North America,” Wilson said. “The Silicon Valley location represents an opportunity to network with customers because decision makers in semiconductors are still very much based in the Valley or within an hour or two flight,” he added.
Fresh out of a Silicon Valley fab: a synthetic diamond wafer.