It's springtime for Springtown as Seagate rains nearly £50m on Northern Ireland plant

Developing nanophotonic disk read-write heads

rain on an umbrella

Seagate is to help pump £57.4m ($74m) into its plant at Springtown in Derry, Northern Ireland, to get its next-gen disk heads dealing with smaller bits.

The plant manufactures 200mm thin-film wafers from which the recording heads are made.

The cash – £47.4m ($61m) from Seagate and £9.95m ($12.8m) from Invest Northern Ireland – is intended for research and development in nanophotonics. There will be 25 new jobs among the 120 research posts involved.

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Seagate pumps £60m into Springtown plant

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Seagate is developing HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording) technology to increase the capacity of its disk drives. This requires the recording head to include a laser element to heat the bit areas on the disk where data is to be written.

As HAMR technology progresses, the bit areas will become smaller and the recording head has to be able to read and write data in these areas on the disk's surface.

Nanophotonics looks at this. It refers to the behaviour of light and its interaction with objects at the nanometre scale: one-billionth of a metre. This can involve the focusing and transport of light by surface plasmon polaritons (SPPs) on metallic components. SPPs are visible or infrared frequency electromagnetic waves that move along a metal-air interface or an electrical insulator (metal dielectric.)

Seagate opened its Springtown plant in 1994 with a £50m investment, creating 500 jobs. Now it employs 1,400 people and more than £1bn ($1.3bn) has been splurged on equipment, buildings and land. It is Derry's largest employer.

Although the overall number of disk drives produced is reducing due to SSD takeup in PCs, notebooks and tablets, the enterprise-capacity disk sector is set to increase. There will be two sets of recording heads in high-capacity disk drives to improve the data-transfer rate, meaning the number of recording heads needed will stay at a high level. The Springtown plant's future looks pretty solid. ®

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