Gregg Lowe, CEO, Wolfspeed

Wolfspeed: Shaping the Future of the Semiconductor Market

It took time, but the electric vehicle is now a reality. As consumers, companies and governments purchase, produce and promote the electrification of the transportation industy, the adoption rate for EVs has increased rapidly. EVs carry an immense potential to revolutionize energy efficiency, economic growth and environmental health. With technologies advancing at a rapid pace, EVs perform better, go farther, charge faster and are more efficient and accessible today than in previous years. However, many EV owners and manufacturers are still dealing with the concerns of battery life. But this is where new semiconductor technology comes to the rescue and helps increase adoption of the next generation of electric vehicles. Silicon Carbide is enabling more efficient batteries that allow drivers to go further per charge compared to the same sized silicon-based semiconductor.

Wolfspeed, a powerhouse semiconductor company, is harnessing the potential of Silicon Carbide in semiconductors that can be more efficiently used in electric vehicles and beyond.

Wolfspeed is the global leader in Silicon Carbide technology and production, leading the worldwide transition from silicon to Silicon Carbide. The company’s product portfolio provides disruptive technology solutions that support a more efficient, sustainable future, including electric vehicles, fast charging, 5G, power supplies, renewable energy and storage, as well as aerospace and defense.

We, at Insights Success, interviewed Gregg Lowe, CEO of Wolfspeed, to understand more about the company and how it is driving the industry-wide transition from silicon to Silicon Carbide-based semiconductors.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Give us a brief overview of Wolfspeed, its vision, and its journey since inception.

The company was founded in 1987 at North Carolina State University by a team of dedicated graduate students who believed in the power of Silicon Carbide as a superior semiconductor material, some of whom are still with us today. Our recent rebrand from Cree to Wolfspeed reflects where the company is headed, as we narrow our focus on being a pure play Silicon Carbide semiconductor powerhouse, leading the global transition from silicon to Silicon Carbide. Silicon Carbide is delivering new levels of performance for many industries, including automotive where our technology is being used in charging infrastructure and the vehicles themselves to drive significant improvements in performance, range and charging times.

 Please list the popular products and applications that make your company stand out from the competition.

Wolfspeed’s technology and products are at the center of today’s and tomorrow’s innovations, powering a more efficient, sustainable future across industries like wireless infrastructure, power storage, renewable energy and, most notably, electric vehicles. At a high-level, we produce many Silicon Carbide products, including MOSFETs, power modules and bare dies. Our newest product, the Wolfspeed WolfPACK power module, maximizes power density and minimizes design complexity, so it’s great for engineers working in the mid-power range.

Wolfspeed’s products have specifically been used in electric vehicles to increase power and extend mileage per charge, which will ultimately increase consumer adoption. Additionally, our new power modules simplify layouts to help accelerate the introduction of fast EV charging.

Wolfspeed is committed to a complete electrification of all transportation, which includes not only personal vehicles, but also freight, trucking, mass transportation and more.

 Describe the company and its semiconductor devices which address the needs of your customers.

The power electronics marketplace is in the midst of a paradigm shift, as customers are seeking greater performance and efficiency in the design of their products and Silicon Carbide provides a very strong value proposition. Wolfspeed is at the forefront leading the transition from silicon to Silicon Carbide technology. We believe the next generation in power semiconductors will be driven by Silicon Carbide, which provides superior performance to ignite new sectors and extend more established ones. In particular, the transition to Silicon Carbide will unleash new possibilities for our company within the electric vehicle space, resulting in longer range, more power and faster charging.

At its core, Silicon Carbide is one of the most difficult materials to make in the world, with crystal growth occurring at half the temperature of the sun and requiring incredibly specific conditions for the crystals to form correctly. Our mastery of this process, combined with our years of experience, sets us apart from the competition and makes us a preferred partner for our customers.

Brief our audience about your leadership role at Wolfspeed.

I joined the company four years ago with a goal of expanding the Wolfspeed business, while at the same exploring the strategic alternatives for our LED and Lighting operations. Our company has a rich history of innovation and as a catalyst for transformational change. After a thorough review of the entire operations, it become abundantly clear that our Wolfspeed business was extremely well positioned to drive a transition across the semiconductor industry from silicon to Silicon Carbide. The power of Silicon Carbide for electric vehicles, 5G, renewables, and an increasingly broad spectrum of industrial applications would be game changing, driving greater performance while increasing energy efficiency and providing for a more responsible and sustainable future. We saw an opportunity to capitalize on 30-plus year deep domain expertise of working with the material to lead and accelerate this shift. Coupling that expertise with a keen understanding of what our customers need to meet the ever-expanding global energy efficiency standards, while delivering superior performance, we made a strategic decision a couple of years ago to significantly increase our Silicon Carbide production. Anchored by our manufacturing facilities in North Carolina and New York, we have established what I like to call the “Silicon Carbide corridor” of the East Coast, with a plan to increase our capacity by 30x and support our vision of the company as a pure-play semiconductor powerhouse.

In my four years with Wolfspeed, we have transformed the company while also confronting a world-wide pandemic, social unrest and global economic uncertainty. We now have a vertically integrated business with a customer-centric culture. Wolfspeed has entered a new era, where we apply our history of innovation to everything thing we do, from leading with the best semiconductor technology to building a great place to work.

Being an experienced business leader, what is your opinion regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the semiconductor materials industry?

 COVID-19 has had a unique impact on almost every industry. The current semiconductor shortage — particularly impacting the automotive sector and being reported on in the news — pertains mainly to silicon and not Silicon Carbide semiconductors, and now the industry continues to recover from the temporary closure of factories around the world. However, the shortage has created opportunities for us to talk with customers about the importance of access to supply and what their plans may be to use Silicon Carbide in their future designs.

As a pure-play Silicon Carbide semiconductor powerhouse, we are investing more than $1 billion dollars to ensure we can meet the demand for Silicon Carbide for the next several decades. At a time when Silicon Carbide adoption is increasing rapidly across multiple industries, especially in automotive, Wolfspeed’s headquarters in Durham, North Carolina, and our Mohawk Valley Fab in Upstate New York will continue to play an essential role in meeting the needs of our current and future customers.

As a well-known semiconductor company, what advanced technologies are you leveraging to make your solutions more productive and approachable?

We’re committed to increasing the supply of Silicon Carbide technology to ensure all electric vehicles are enabled with optimal mileage, power and battery storage. Our investment in R&D is focused on Silicon Carbide, differentiating us from the competition.

Further, Wolfspeed is on track to open in early calendar year 2022 our automotive-qualified Mohawk Valley Fab in Upstate New York that will produce devices form 200-millimeter Silicon Carbide wafers. As the world’s largest Silicon Carbide fab, it will ensure we remain a reliable supplier for current clients and future customer contracts. We are also expanding our materials factory in Durham as part of Wolfspeed’s larger capacity expansion plan to meet an anticipated steeper demand curve for Silicon Carbide.

Describe in detail Wolfspeed’s work culture and the company’s values.

Our company values include integrity and respect; ownership and accountability; and ingenuity and passion. We believe that our employees are our greatest thought leaders. We listen, and then we act. Some of the greatest improvements to our culture, whether it is new ways of communicating, such as the videos I now do every two weeks or offering in-home and drop-off daycare support start as conversations with our team. Taking care of and understanding our employees ensures that we are not only successful in our operations, but also cultivates an open, inclusive and enriching environment. Over the past year, we have taken the opportunity to learn and innovate on how we operate, increasing pay for half of our workforce and introducing our “Work Where it Works” program, which provides our employees with the flexibility about where and when they work. We also continue to foster a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion that encompasses all employee differences and identities. Overall, Wolfspeed remains committed to creating and sustaining a culture where all employees are safe, engaged and empowered to contribute to their full potential.

In what ways has Wolfspeed contributed to the community?

As the pandemic continues to impact the communities where we work and live, we have focusing our giving on where we can have the most impact, and sometimes that means being very creative in our approach. Addressing hunger as well as supporting the financial stability of those in Habitat for Humanity homes has been critical during this time. That work is also foundational to helping close the opportunity gap – which is our primary mission. We support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education from early intervention all the way through collegiate programs and internships in the locations where we operate. Many of the organizations we support and our ideas to give back to the community come from our employees – through our matching gift program.

As an established business leader, what would your advice be to start-ups aspiring to venture into the semiconductor industry?

For young professionals or early-stage businesses, I cannot stress education enough. Education changed my life, and I have seen the impact day in and day out that it can have on others, which is why it continues to be a key initiative for us at Wolfspeed. We have made significant investments through our scholarship programs at both SUNY Poly in New York and NC A&T in North Carolina. We also have a successful internship program that we have built over the past four years. It’s so important that we provide opportunity and train tomorrow’s high-tech workforce for our growing industry.

 What are Wolfspeed’s future aspirations? What strategies are you undertaking to achieve those goals?

​​Innovation has defined our company for over 30 years and delivering new solutions that allow our customers and society to do more while consuming less is at the core of what we do. As we look toward the future, Wolfspeed is well-positioned to reach an unprecedented level of growth as we continue to lead the shift from silicon to Silicon Carbide, which is already bringing positive changes to the way we live. In addition, as we experience a rise in demand for Silicon Carbide, our capacity expansion in North Carolina and New York will help us to supply this growing pipeline of customers through increased production, near term most significantly in the automotive industry, and longer term across a broad and ever-increasing spectrum of industrial applications.