André-Jacques Auberton-Hervé and Jean-Michel Lamure, engineers at Grenoble's CEA-Leti (Atomic Energy Commission/Electronics and IT Technology Laboratory), founded Soitec to manufacture SOI wafers on an industrial scale using the Smart Cut process, invented in 1991 within Michel Bruel's laboratory.
By developing the first laboratory applications for SOI and implementing a pilot line for the Smart Cut process in 1996, Soitec demonstrated the potential of its technology. The company entered into a strategic partnership with Japanese manufacturer Shin-Etsu Handotai (SEH), the number-one player in the silicon industry. Soitec decided to build an initial production facility in Bernin, near Grenoble.
Soitec was introduced and is since listed on Paris' New Stock Market Exchange (which later became Euronext Paris) and inaugurated Bernin I, the world's largest SOI production center. Its capacity was gradually increased until it was annually producing 800,000 wafers with diameters of 200 mm or less. The company employed over 100 people at the time.
Following several years of research and development in its 300-mm wafer technology, Soitec opened a dedicated factory, Bernin II, capable of producing 720,000 wafers every year. For the first time, the company's turnover surpassed 100 million euros.
Soitec took over the assets of Picogiga International, a specialist in technologies for composite materials. As a result, Soitec expanded its Smart Cut technology to include materials other than silicon. The first gallium nitride (GaN)-on-insulator substrates were produced the following year.
Soitec opened a commercial subsidiary, Soitec Asia, in Tokyo. The following year, it opened an office in Taiwan. The company employed over 500 people at the time.
In collaboration with CEA-Leti, the NanoSmart R&D project aimed to develop new applications for Smart Cut technology. Two hundred million euros were invested over a five-year period. The purchase of TraciT Technologies, which specialized in molecular adhesion and mechanical as well as chemical thinning processes, was part of Soitec's efforts to expand into new markets.
SOI production continued to ramp up: Soitec employed its 1,000th worker. The founder and CEO of Soitec was elected president of the SOI Industry Consortium, which includes over 30 major international manufacturers and research laboratories dedicated to promoting SOI technology.
Soitec manufactured its first SOI wafers in Asia at its Pasir Ris production site in Singapore. The unit featured 4,000 m² of cleanrooms and had a production capacity of one million 300-mm wafers per year.
Soitec purchased 80 percent of Concentrix Solar, one of the world's leading suppliers of concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) systems, thereby entering the quickly growing solar-energy market. The company built its first solar plants in the United States, South Africa and the Middle East.
In January 2015, Soitec developed a strategic plan to refocus its activities around its core business: electronics. Paul Boudre became the company's chief executive officer.
The electronics business includes Soitec's historical activities in the field of semiconductors (Bernin's active production lines in France and those on standby at the Pasir Ris site in Singapore) as well as its research and development efforts in III-V materials.
During the 2015–2016 fiscal year, Soitec continued to pursue its strategic refocusing plan by divesting from its non-core activities: