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22 Apr 2019
Opportunities in Semiconductor

Country offers an attractive ecosystem to effectively support fab industry

The Star, Malaysia

By Joy Lee

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MALAYSIA is among one of the larger semiconductor markets in the world. But there is room for the local industry to further develop its capabilities in the area of design works to remain competitive amid slowing global sales.

Raj Kumar, founder and group chief executive officer of IGSS Ventures, notes that Malaysia has the potential to play a bigger role in the semiconductor industry than it does today.

“This is especially so in specific capabilities and sectors with multiple advantages that can be better optimised and commercialised.

“The unique opportunity here is for Malaysia to start `fabless product companies’, but to do so, we must address the critical needs for top notch product design talents,” he says.

According to reports, Malaysia is one of the most important semiconductor export markets in Asia – after China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. Nonetheless, the country pales in comparison with other semiconductor nations in terms of investments.

“Thus far, Malaysia has yet to have a strong home-grown semiconductor champion in the international arena like what TSMC is to Taiwan or Samsung is to South Korea. And China’s investment capabilities, on the other hand, are well ahead of others,” Raj adds.

There are generally two main types of semiconductor companies in Malaysia: integrated device manufacturer (IDM) and dedicated foundries.

Regional opportunities: By scaling up regional cooperation, South-East Asia can create a robust semiconductor space.

IDMs mainly design, manufacture and sell their own semiconductors, like Intel or Samsung. Dedicated foundries or fabs, on the other hand, are much like “factories for hire” which manufacture semiconductors according to their customers’ specifications.

The third category of companies is the fabless companies, which design semiconductors and contract out the manufacturing to other foundries or IDMs with spare manufacturing capacity.

Apart from developing a pool of product design talents, issues such as intellectual property protection, licensing and research and development (R&D) spending are also important issues, particularly for fabless companies.

“The global semiconductor industry, in general, currently needs viable alternative locations to build their new fabs or relocate their existing niche fabs due to increasing higher operational costs in countries such as Japan, the US and Europe.

“If Malaysia develops an intensive national sectorial marketing strategy and further enhance or implement supporting incentives for semiconductor operators, it can very likely attract five to 10 other wafer fabs in the next 10-15 years.

“The potential is there for Malaysia to be akin to South Korea in branding itself as an ideal ‘fab relocation’ destination in chosen semiconductor fields in the next 15 years,” says Raj.

He adds that growth and expansion of the industry lie in the areas of wafer foundries, outsourced semiconductor assembly and test industries, design services and in supporting entities with niche semiconductor technology capabilities.

This will help to differentiate local players from the much bigger global competitors.

“These sectors are already present in the country and it provides a strong base for industry players to further tap into,” he says.

Other advantages that the local wafer fab industry have include a rich multinational culture, business-friendly laws and good comprehension of English.

Another trend that will determine Malaysia’s competitiveness is its ability to adapt and adopt new technology.

“The global technological trends led by top semiconductor and technology nations will affect and shape the local industries. Malaysia is playing catch-up.

“That is why we will need to prioritise first, the talent development for Industry 4.0, and build skill sets and foundations for companies and sectors that purely or mainly compete with overseas competitors for global businesses.

“The semiconductor industry is primarily export-based, hence we are competing with global competitors, and the need to adopt best practices quickly and effectively, is crucial. This also includes establishing business strategies and partnerships that can accelerate technology adoption and achieve business efficiencies to drive innovations,” says Raj.

The government has been pushing the adoption of Industry 4.0 in the manufacturing sector for some time now. However, there is still a lot of education needed for producers to jump on the bandwagon – most don’t know where to begin.

While some form of upgrade has already taken place in some parts of the semiconductor industry, these efforts can be further enhanced. An example is the increased automation in repetitive operations in the cleanroom, where robotics can be used in place of manual labour.

Raj also points out that the advent of big data and data analytics will be a game-changer for players as demand increases for better efficiencies at the fabs.

“The policies and framework surrounding Industry 4.0 sees Malaysia focusing on the right fundamentals. In encouraging investments, innovations, talent development and growth, high-value manufacturers will almost certainly become a key economic driver.

“However, as is with any policies or framework, the secret to success lies in the execution of them,” he cautions.

Certainly, SMEs in the industry will need greater support. Raj opines that this could come in the form of matching grants or loans to encourage SME innovation and investments in R&D.

“Equally important, the universities and higher learning institutes need to strengthen relevant skills to meet rapidly evolving workplace requirements. There should be new syllabus in polytechnics and vocational schools with focus given to non-graduate students on key industries in Malaysia that will drive socio-economic results,” he adds.

If all these are realised, Malaysia will be in a good position to play a bigger role in the global market.

“Critical success factors include scale, overall capabilities and cost competitiveness, all of which can be improved through economies of scale.”

Currently, Singapore and Malaysia are the only two nations in South-East Asia with the capabilities to support wafer fabs, says Raj.

He adds that there is plenty of room for both countries to collaborate within the region to create a stronger bloc to challenge larger markets.

While Singapore continues to invest in R&D and equipment ecosystem, it faces the challenge of land scarcity and low skilled manpower. Malaysia, on the other hand, has more than enough manpower and a cost advantage.

“The case for regionalisation is to optimise the individual capabilities within South-East Asia, and combine them as a collective industry powerhouse, better equipped to compete with bigger players.

“By scaling up regional cooperation, South-East Asia can create a robust semiconductor space in comparison with China, Taiwan and South Korea.

“By making us a force to be reckoned with, we are more likely to attract multi-billion semiconductor investments from Japan, the US and Europe where some of the niche fabs and supporting industries need to relocate or have a ‘dual-location’ strategy,” he says.

Last year, IGSS tied-up with local semiconductor wafer foundry SilTerra Malaysia Sdn Bhd in a technology transfer deal. The partnership will significantly reduce production costs.

“SilTerra’s capabilities complement ours as they have a world-class semiconductor facility and an aligned strategy of focusing on differentiated emerging niche semiconductor technologies so it can still grow healthily in this space.

“The partnership we have with SilTerra is both strategic and a trusted one, with a win-win model. With continued focus and intensity, it will positively change the future of both companies within the next three to five years,” Raj says.

26 Oct 2018
Visit By Minister Of Entrepreneur Development

The Minister of Entrepreneur Development (MED), YB Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Bin Md Yusof and his delegation were at SilTerra for a working visit on Wednesday, 24th October 2018.

The delegation included the Deputy Minister, YB Datuk Wira Dr. Hatta Ramli, the Secretary General and senior management of MED. Accompanying the Minister were the President & CEO of MiGHT (Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology), Datuk Dr. Mohd Yusoff Sulaiman and Kulim Technology Park Corporation (KTPC) Senior VP (Corporate), Tuan Hj. Mohd Sahil Zabidi.

SilTerra's Member of the Board, En. Effizal Faiz Zulkifly (representing Khazanah Nasional), En. Firdaus Abdullah, CEO, and SilTerra’s top management were on hand to greet the Minister and his delegation. A Corporate Overview and Technology & Market Development activities was presented to share SilTerra's readiness and interest to participate in the New National Car Project (NNCP).

The idea for the NNCP was mooted by our Honourable Prime Minister, YAB Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, with the objective to develop and localize more vendors and enhance their engineering capacity and technical capabilities. This will help position Malaysia beyond being just a consumer and to move towards a producer of high-value goods. MiGHT, a think tank under the Prime Minister’s Department, is tasked to establish strategic partnerships and cooperation with the private sector, while leveraging on relevant Ministries to help make this initiative a reality.

30 Jan 2018
Malaysia Top Achiever (MATA) Awards 2017

The inaugural MATA Awards 2017 is to recognise domestic top achievers and their contributions towards the Malaysian economy.

The Awards seek to inspire, motivate and encourage local businesses to stand out in the international scene through their excellent products and services.

This will also indirectly promote Malaysia as a globally-competitive nation.

The award was presented by the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism in Kuala Lumpur on January 30th 2018.

Photo: SilTerra's COO accepted the award on behalf of SilTerra

17 May 2017
SilTerra receives 2 awards at Kedah Industrial Excellence Award 2017

The Kedah State Government through Invest Kedah Berhad held the prestigious Kedah Industrial Excellence Award 2017 on 17th May 2017.

The event gave appreciation to the industrial players who have contributed to the development of the industrial sector in the state of Kedah.

The award ceremony was officiated by YAB Dato' Seri DiRaja Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, the Chief Minister of Kedah Darul Aman.

SilTerra Malaysia received 2 awards on that night:

  1. Chief Minister's Award for Category of Large Local Company (LLC)
  2. Special Appreciation for Excellence in Domestic Direct Investment (DDI)

12 May 2017
SilTerra's 180nm Embedded Flash Technology Used in Indonesia's Xirka Smart Card

Launch of Xirka Smart Card SCard XCT136

Jakarta, Indonesia - 12th May 2017.

Xirka Silicon Technology unveiled their Chipset SCard XCT136, the first local Indonesian smart card, providing multi-function purposes for student identity cards. To track student attendance, it works by using computerized fingerprint scanners to ensure a secure environment. It also offers a cashless transaction option, so all transactions related to university activities can be done by swiping the card.

Xirka Silicon Technology is a Fabless Semiconductor Company founded in 2005 and based in Bandung. They have been providing design services to Japanese companies since year 2005 to 2008. Xirka started producing chipsets in 2007 by delivering System-on-Chip (SoC) for Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) and entered into the wider APAC regional market by partnering with SilTerra in Malaysia and others in Singapore, Taiwan and Japan. In 2012 they started design work on the smart card utilizing SilTerra's 0.18um embedded Flash Technology. In 2016, Xirka completed development of its local smart card protocol, which includes Key Management System, Card Management System, and Smart Card Operating System allowing for support of multi-application features.

SilTerra is providing the foundry services or wafer fabrication of the chips.

The smartcard is supported by Indonesian Ministry of Research Technology and Higher Education together with Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Informatics. The chipset currently targets educational institutions, such as University of Indonesia, Bandung Institute of Technology, Hasanuddin University and Telkom University, and is widely applied to electronic student identity cards.

At the launch ceremony, Rudiantara, Minister of Communication and Information Technology of the Republic of Indonesia said "The digital economy has a tremendous potential in advancing the Indonesian economy. This sector will contribute up to 11% of economic development in 2020. If accomplished, in 2030 Indonesia will occupy the 8th position in the world economy. Therefore, it needs greater innovation to face global competitiveness and this chipset development is the answer."

Xirka's CEO Sylvia W. Sumarlin reported on a research from MARS Indonesia, in 2016, where state universities in Indonesia had a total of 507,000 new students. She said, "Therefore, to answer market needs, Xirka Silicon Technology will provide up to 1 million units of Chipset SCard XCT136 per year for those universities."

Furthermore, according to Sylvia, the chipset provides several blocks of data storage memory. "Each offers different functions, such as application ID, payment, and loyalty card. Early next year, Xirka plans to launch Near-Field Communication (NFC) chipsets, which are commonly used for electronic ticket and mobile payment."

Together, Xirka Silicon Technology and Microelectronics Center Bandung Institute of Technology worked to optimize security and data storage by strengthening technologies in all support systems, including card reader portable, virtual Secure Access Module (SAM), secure network, and card database. In security optimization, Chipset SCard XCT136 utilizes security engine DES and 3DES, adding 136 Kbyte to the chipsets to support more extensive data saving.

Launching ceremony of Chipset SCard XCT136

Sylvia W. Sumarlin (Xirka Silicon Technology) and Rudiantara (Minister of Communication and Informatics) in the center, together with representatives of supporting Government and educational institutions.

From left: Matthew Tan & Timothy Lee of SilTerra and Dr Trio Adiono (far right), CTO for Xirka, Head of Microelectronics in ITB, IEEE Chair for Solid State Circuits Society (SSCS) Indonesia Chapter.

01 Dec 2016
Chipus launches a battery charger IP in a 0.18µm BCD process

The power management section of ICs for portable applications often requires low power consumption together with high voltage operation capability, which leads to big challenges for IC design with respect to power consumption and chip power dissipation.

As this requirement has become crucial in today's market demands, Chipus has updated its portfolio with a battery charger IP (CM1712ff) using a BCD technology that assures the coexistence of high density logic and high voltage devices, giving origin to a new set of features with configurable specifications.

The silicon proven IP (CM1712ff), features:

"We launched our first battery charger IP in SilTerra C18GH5, which is a 5V technology. Now, we are launching an improved version using a BCD process, making it possible to make the circuit tolerant to input voltages as high as 30V", says Daniel P. Mioni, IC Design Leader at Chipus. "This is an important increment to our IP and IC design services offering in Power Management, mainly due to the high demand for high-voltage tolerant applications enabled by BCD processes", says Murilo Pessatti, Chipus' CEO.

With the use of the BCD technology in the battery charger IP, Chipus seeks to guarantee high quality and reliability in all types of application environments. The reliable coexistence on the same chip of low-voltage control circuits and high-voltage DMOS stages with typical voltage capability, opens the door for uncountable applications. With this achievement, Chipus looks to continue capitalizing their innovative products, develop more tailor-made solutions to their customers, allowing them to match their specifications in a shorter design cycle.

Chipus Microelectronics is a semiconductor company specialized in the development of low-power, low-voltage, analog and mixed-signal intellectual property (IP) blocks for integrated circuits (ICs) and systems on chip (SoCs). It develops configurable IP core architectures that allow a good level of customization together with high IP portability, providing unique level of freedom on customer design requirements. Chipus is headquartered in Florianopolis - Brazil, with a Sales office in Santa Clara - California and a Sales Representative in Europe.