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3D Glass to invest $23 million in new factory

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Homegrown startup 3D Glass Solutions will invest $23 million in a new Albuquerque facility to build components for mobile communications and other markets with funding from the state and private investors.

The company, which uses a proprietary ceramic glass to make semiconductor chips, will receive $2 million in Local Economic Development Act assistance to move from its current 5,000-square-foot facility to a 16,000-square-foot space in the North I-25 industrial corridor. It’s also closing on a new $12 million round of private investment to ramp up production of high-tech radio frequency components needed for next-generation high-speed mobile communications.

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3D Glass Solutions technician Michal Kelly inspects a wafer at the company’s current plant. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The company expects to grow from 16 employees now to about 150 over the next five years, with average salaries of more than $60,000 a year, said 3D Glass CEO Mark Popovich.

“We’re out of space and electric power at our current facility,” Popovich said. “We have to move to a place where we can ramp up production and plan for long-term growth.”

Gov. Susana Martinez announced the LEDA funding Monday at Central New Mexico Community College’s Workforce Training Center, near the company’s new facility. The exact location remains confidential, because 3D Glass is still concluding lease negotiations.

“We’re proud to see another world-class technology company expand in New Mexico as we continue to grow our thriving science and technology sector,” Martinez said in a prepared statement.

Apart from LEDA funding, the company will receive Job Training Incentive Program assistance, which can pay up to 25 percent of a newly hired employee’s salary for up to a year.

It’s also negotiating Industrial Revenue Bonds with Bernalillo County. The county would act as the fiscal agent for the LEDA funds if the County Commission approves next month.

At an administrative meeting Sept. 25, commissioners had announced their intent to vote on the proposal on Nov. 13. But until now, the company’s identity remained confidential, with public documents referring only to “Project Oryx” under a non-disclosure agreement signed by commissioners.

Public documents said the company wanted about $25 million in IRBs, but the exact amount is still unclear. The company would be responsible for repaying the bonds, which provide it with property tax abatements.

Such local and state incentives are critical for diversifying the economy with high-tech, high-wage companies, said Economic Development Secretary Matt Geisel.

“3D Glass is a true economic success story,” Geisel said in a statement.

The company has slowly laid the foundations for long-term growth with homegrown technology that could help facilitate a range of next-generation products in the communications, automotive, defense and aerospace industries, among others.

A wafer containing semiconductors at 3D Glass Solutions. The Albuquerque company is expanding to meet growing demand for its products in high-speed mobile communications and other industries. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

It created a glass ceramic material it calls APEXGlass that allows the company to easily etch three-dimensional electronics components into chips at the microscopic level in a way that’s difficult to do with things like silicon or laminates that are traditionally used in semiconductor chips. That allows 3D Glass to make much smaller components at lower cost, while improving component and device operations.

That’s because glass is a much more efficient conductor than other materials, said Jeb Flemming, a former Sandia National Laboratories scientist who founded the company and now serves as chief technology officer.

The industry is widely looking to replace silicon with glass, positioning 3D Glass as a key player in emerging markets like 5G communications. The company is directly targeting that industry with components for high-speed wireless products.

3D Glass will start out occupying about 10,000 square feet in its new facility, expanding to 16,000 square feet as demand for its products grows, Popovich said.

The company is now closing on a $12 million round of private investment, led by two strategic Asian investors. That brings the company’s total private investment to about $20 million since it launched in 2006.

Santa Fe-based Sun Mountain Capital, which manages the State Investment Council investments in local companies, is also participating.

“It’s our first investment in 3D Glass alongside other strategic investors,” Sun Mountain partner Lee Rand said. “They have exciting technology that fits well in the 5G cellular rollout market and in other industries.”

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Semiconductors at 3D Glass Solutions in Albuquerque use a proprietary glass ceramic material that the company says is a more efficient conductor than traditional materials. That means components can be made smaller and at lower cost while improving operations, it says. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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