Technology: Only by design
by MICHAEL SUN
24, New Sunday Times
Microchip design engineers need jobs but design houses will
only be attracted to Malaysia if more of these engineers are
trained here. Michael Sun looks at a solution to the
THERE is a need to train sufficient numbers of microchip
design engineers to attract foreign design houses to Malaysia,
thereby generating new employment and value-added
Raising capabilities for intellectual property design and
putting Malaysia higher on the technology rung in the cyber
economy is Bruce Gray, president and chief operating officer
at Khazanah-backed microchip wafer foundry SilTerra Malaysia
“In order for companies to relocate here, there has to be a
‘source’ of design engineers because they are the people
whom design houses hire,” says Gray, a graduate from the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Describing himself as “a business man not encumbered by
policy matters”, he adds: “One of the ways SilTerra can
encourage the employment of design engineering graduates is by
bringing advance technology here to train existing design
engineers at local universities and to provide fertile ground
to attract design companies to locate at Kulim High Technology
In November last year, SilTerra Malaysia announced the
successful development of functional 8-megabit Static Random
Access Memory (SRAM) chips made from 0.13-micron wafers.
DYNAMIC PARTNERSHIP: Gray and Othman say the future is bright
for microchip design engineers
These wafers are a product of 0.13micron Complementary Metal
Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) process technology jointly
developed with Belgium’s Interuniversity MicroElectronics
Center (IMEC), Europe’s leading independent nanoelectronics
headquarters in Leuven.
Silterra started the joint development project with IMEC in
June last year.
Dubbed CLI130G, the new technology will enable electronic
companies to produce communication, computation and digital
consumer products with wider functions in a more cost
Headquartered at the Kulim High Technology Park in Kedah –
Malaysia’s Silicon hub – Silterra Malaysia also has an
internship arrangement with undergraduate design students at
the nearby School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang.
“There is nowhere for them (graduate design engineers) to go
unless there are more design houses around,” says Othman
Sidek, associate professor and dean of the school at USM.
Most of the USM students attempting engineering design end up
being employed at Agilent Technologies Malaysia.
“It is a chicken-and-egg situation. The more designers we
are able to train, the greater the possibility of attracting
design houses to set up in this country – that’s our
function as a university,” he adds.
“There should be a clear programme to get to this point (of
critical mass in the number of design engineers to attract
foreign direct investment),” says Othman.
Up to four years ago in Malaysia, universities had been left
out of Information Technology (IT) design programmes offered
by foreign companies.
HIGHLY-SPECIALISED: Engineers working in the photo cleanroom
“ Certain institutions should have coordinated the IT design
activities in the country but they failed to do so,” he
adds, without elaborating.
As a result, Malaysia now faces competition from India and
Dubai (UAE) for foreign direct investment of microchip design
houses owing to a head start in the latter countries design
capabilities and development, he said.
“This has be addressed,” he adds.
Gray explains: “You start out with a fabrication facility
with the manufacturing concern and participate with local
universities to create more competent and highly trained
graduates in the design engineering field.
“They then provide the rich background which we work with to
plan new products for new-product companies. The new-product
companies are all over Malaysia and increasingly here (at
“That’s how you raise the overall levels of the
capabilities of the country beyond mere manufacturing into the
intellectual property design phase.”
Semiconductor manufacturing not only involves high-quality
supplies and complex equipment but also a highly skilled
labour force to support activities.
An ideal location is in an established high-technology hub
with strong packaging and testing presence. Close proximity to
backend service houses that significantly reduces costs and
cycle time in the supply chain is another advantage.
These geographical advantages are met at the Kulim
High-Technology Park where Silterra Malaysia is located, says
Steve Della Rocchetta, its executive vice president (sales and
marketing), in a research paper titled Foundry Suppliers: The
Competition Heats Up (Semico Research, April 2003).
Furthermore, a location of exceptional quality of life is also
required to attract the appropriate engineers into the Silicon
hub, he adds.
Over the years, Silterra had hired 65 new graduates from
various local universities. It intends to hire 10 this year.
“Over the next few years, we will probably continue to do
the same. If business increases, that number may well
increase,” says Gray.
INTRICATE WORK: Technicians loading wafers in the Standard
Mechanical Interface (SMIF) pod
He views it is important to have additional fresh graduates
coming into the company.
“Quite often, they see things in a fresh light and this
provides economic value to the company.
But semi-conductor manufacturing is subject to economic
cycles, particularly those of the United States –
Malaysia’s major export market.
“It is just coming out if a small dip. Business today is
looking better than it did a quarter ago but it is not as good
looking as it did a year ago.
“We tend to be driven by better consumer sentiments. If the
price of oil comes down it would be a lot better as it would
give people a lot more money to spend.”
However, challenges during economic downturns bring
opportunities to foundries like Silterra Malaysia as
integrated device manufacturers outsource their needs when
they delay or reduce capital investments.
“New foundries will do well if they stay focused on their
customers and do not jump into too many projects or
over-extend their resources,” says Della Rocchetta.
Hence, design engineers may still find employment or keep
their jobs in foundries like Silterra Malaysia during a
Silterra Malaysia Sdn. Bhd.:
Market demand driven, SilTerra Malaysia Sdn Bhd is a
semiconductor wafer foundry offering major foundry compatible
CMOS logic, high-voltage and mixed-signal/RF technologies down
to 0.13-micron feature size. This includes complete,
competitive contract manufacturing for fabless and IDM
customers’ designs. SilTerra’s wafer fab has a design
capacity of 40,000 eight-inch wafers per month.
vigilant, SilTerra delivers award winning, world-class
performance to its customers seeking flexible capacity,
competitive advantages and around the clock customer support.
SilTerra is ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 14001 certified. Founded in
1995, the company’s headquarters and factory are located in
Malaysia’s Kulim High-Tech Park, and SilTerra has sales and
marketing offices in San Jose (California) and Hsinchu
(Taiwan). For additional information on SilTerra or its
services, please visit www.silterra.com.
Koh Meng Kong
+6-012-491-0425 (Cell phone)
Lu Ping Chiang
Tel : +886-3-574-1587 (o)