Plans unveiled to boost semiconductor industry

Task force aims to help firms take advantage of trends, tackle talent crunch, manage costs

For Singapore to hold on to its edge in the semiconductor industry, companies here must capture emerging opportunities in automotives, data protection and connected smart devices.

This was one of the conclusions reached by a task force which yesterday unveiled plans to help the industry take advantage of these global trends, tackle the talent crunch and manage rising costs.

The industry generated $51 billion of annual manufacturing output and employed more than 44,000 people here in 2013. It contributes more than 60 per cent of electronics manufacturing output.

The task force - made up of government and industry association representatives as well as senior management of some of the largest semiconductor companies here - made recommendations in three key areas.

First, companies should invest in automation and energy efficiency to help offset high labour and utilities costs here. Labour accounts for 20 per cent to 40 per cent of a typical wafer fabrication plant's operating expenses, while energy costs make up 40 per cent to 50 per cent.

Mr K.C. Ang, senior vice-president and general manager of semiconductor company GlobalFoundries Singapore, said it has invested in 29 autonomous mobile robots, which have replaced more than 100 operators on one of its factory lines.

GlobalFoundries is now working with partners to roll out the solution industry-wide, said Mr Ang.

Secondly, the task force recommended that companies build more formal partnerships with public sector research agencies such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

Lastly, to address the shortage of local talent, the task force aims to develop an industry-wide programme with the aim of grooming 150 leaders over the next five years. This is expected to cost between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Companies will also look into offering internships and scholarships to draw top fresh graduates, said the president of global industry association Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International South-east Asia, Mr Ng Kai Fai.

Mr Ang said the semiconductor industry here has ridden on the boom in PC demand, as well as the demand for mobile devices.

"The next big trend is the Internet of Things," he added.

The Internet of Things refers to the network of physical objects collecting and exchanging data.

Professor Kwong Dim-Lee, executive director at A*Star's Institute of Microelectronics, said the growing demand for sensors - for instance, in driverless cars and real-time health monitoring devices - also presents vast opportunities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Plans unveiled to boost semiconductor industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe