ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Homegrown semiconductor chipmaker 3D Glass Solutions is celebrating a soft opening Tuesday for its new 16,000-square-foot facility near Balloon Fiesta Park, where the company expects to expand from its current 25 employees to 150 in the next few years.
The company announced a $23 million investment last fall to acquire, remodel and equip the new building as it ramps up operations to build components for mobile communications and other markets. It needed more space as it moves out of research and development into high-volume output for strategic partners and customers operating in the telecommunications and aerospace markets.
The new digs will actually provide about 18,000 square feet of operating space, because some hallways were knocked out to open things up more for employees and equipment, CEO Mark Popovich said.
“We’re nearly quadrupling the size of our operation,” Popovich told the Journal. “We’re moving from a low-volume electronics packaging space into a mid-volume, high-tech production facility with new equipment that offers in-house capabilities for all our operations.”
The move comes at a critical time in company development, with demand for its products intensifying as it forges strategic partnerships with big industry players, including Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Japanese conglomerate Nagase & Co. Ltd. Both of those firms contributed to a new, $12 million round of venture investment that closed last May, bringing total private investment in 3D Glass to about $19 million since it launched in 2006.
Murata Manufacturing Co. Ltd. and Sun Mountain Capital, which manages New Mexico State Investment Council investments in local companies, also contributed to the round.
The new money, along with $2 million in Local Economic Development Act money approved under former Gov. Susana Martinez – plus about $25 million in industrial revenue bonds approved by Bernalillo County – helped 3D Glass pay for the new facility.
“We’re investing in the building remodel and a lot of new equipment,” Popovich said. “We’ll probably pump more than $23 million into it before we’re done over the next three to four years.”
Doubling in size now
The company is rapidly ramping up its workforce, which grew from about 15 last fall to 25 now.
“We’re completely out of space at our old facility,” Popovich said. “We’ll easily double in size over the next year, and we expect to grow to more than 150 employees in the next few years.”
The company’s design team is already operating in the new space at 5601 Balloon Fiesta Parkway NE. It will move its entire team there over the next three months, Popovich said.
The company has developed a proprietary glass ceramic material to make semiconductor chips that are more powerful, efficient and cheaper to make than traditional chips created with silicon or laminates. Its material, called APEXglass, allows the company to easily etch three-dimensional electronics components into chips at a microscopic level, enabling design of much smaller components at lower cost, while improving component and device operations.
More efficient conductor
Glass is a much more efficient conductor than other materials, encouraging the communications industry to replace silicon with glass. And that’s positioned 3D Glass as a key player in such emerging markets as 5G communications, which the company is directly targeting with radio frequency and other components for high-speed wireless communications.
Its technology led to the new partnership with Nagase & Co. Ltd., which is creating 5G-compatible devices. It also attracted Lockheed Martin, because its high-performance RF communication components can help boost complex avionics, space and security systems.
“Lockheed Martin is a major defense contractor, and defense and space technology like satellites are right up there for our technology,” Popovich said.
The new partnerships reflect the maturity of 3D Glass’ business development.
“We know our technology works, we have the proof, and we’re making product at a much more consistent volume now,” Popovich said.
The new facility is critical to cement the company’s new partnerships and grow its customer base, said 3D Glass founder and Chief Technology Officer Jeb Flemming.
“It’s the next step in our business evolution,” Flemming said. “Our customers want us in an audited facility where we’ll be based for the next 10 to 20 years with production repeatability to meet demand. The new space allows us to ramp up production volume and target tier one electronics companies.”
As the business grows, 3D Glass could expand its markets, because its technology can be applied in many industries, providing glass-packaged circuit boards for many types of electronics systems. But for now, it’s focused mostly on communications, Flemming said.
We welcome suggestions for the daily Bright Spot. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.