Is India ready for a high-volume semiconductor manufacturing?
This was the title of an industry session at IEEE International Conference of Emerging Electronics (ICEE) 2022 event held in Bangalore from 11th to 14th of Dec 2022 . The panel include people from different types of semiconductor businesses/product categories namely:
Mr. Sameer Pendharkar, Vice President, Technology Development & TI Senior Fellow, Texas Instruments.
Dr. Primit Parekh, Co-Founder & President, Transphorm Inc.
Dr. Shekar Mallikarjunaswamy, Vice President IC Technology & TVS, Alpha Omega Semiconductor.
Dr. Ritu Sodhi, Technical Consultant, ROHM Semiconductor, India.
Dr. Ravi Todi, Sr. Technologist, Western Digital Inc.
The session was chaired by Dr. Madhur Bobde, CTO, Alpha Omega Semiconductor. He started the session by sharing his views on the subject of India getting into high-volume semiconductor manufacturing. He was quite optimistic on the possibility of India having a large fab. He sees stars are aligning in India's favour. The supporting points found by him include: massive consumption of semiconductor in India, need of secure supply chain of semiconductor, and the geopolitics is also favouring India as an alternate supplier.
The most important according to him is requirement of huge investment of money and time to start a fab and making it profitable. He came out with a nice slide explaining how different is valley of death for semiconductor entrepreneurs compared to other industries. Government has a big role to play to make this semiconductor start-ups passing through this valley of death. He finds good response from the government in terms of policies and incentives.
Mr. Sameer Pendhalkar put forward five points to-look-at for companies who wanted to manufacture semiconductor chips in large scale in India. Before that he also suggested to prospective Indian chip-makers to decide to become a foundry or a product oriented company. The points/questions he put forwarded are:
1. What are the needs (semiconductor device needs) and how they are supported today.
2. What is the competition? Is there 2 companies or 10 companies competing, what are they doing in terms of scale of innovation.
3. Capability and longevity of the manufacturing company, where they both go hand in hand.
4. Investment is critical factor in semiconductor industry.
5 Finally profitability is key to success, where the venture should make profit to sustain.
Sameer see the production of chips in mature nodes is highly feasible in India. He also highlighted the importance of availability of 24/7 water, power, and industrial gases and such eco supporting factors. He says profitability of the plant depends on 24/7 running of fab. Along with water and power, the semiconductor equipment need to be operated and maintained to run 24/7.
Dr. Shekar Mallikarjunaswamy, though appreciated his colleague Madhur's views, however he pointed out few issues such as:
Government is playing important role with good policies and incentives but he finds policy implementers guidance need to be current. He suggest lesser bureaucracy and remove notion that industry is looking to pilfer incentives. He sees pari-passu is not clear.
He suggest further easing of export/import procedures with lesser paper work and more transparency across all departments.
Dr. Primith Parekh shared his views on power semiconductor market opportunities in India particularly based on GaN and other compound semiconductor materials. Availability of human resources, not only engineers, but also technicians to operate semiconductor equipment is key factor, according to Primith. He says it is possible to build GaN power semiconductor fab with an investment of US$100 Million. He suggests going in reverse order by building electronics products first before fab is also a workable way.
Dr. Ritu Sodhi see lot of support from government in terms of investment for fabs. She sounded cautiously optimistic where she said "The semiconductor fab is definitely doable though challenging". She also see the stars are aligning in India's favour. She come across people who are ready to offer land, water and other such physical infrastructure for companies who wanted to build semiconductor devices in India.
Last speaker to add his thoughts to the session was Dr. Ravi Todi from important industry of semiconductor memory. He find it is extremely challenging for India to get into high-end memory and also cutting edge logic fab. Ravi held different view compared to other speakers. He said stars have aligned from past 25 years. He suggest change in mindset, and things need to move fast, snail movement will not work. Ravi said semiconductor manufacturing is not sprint, it is a marathon. It demands long term investment in R&D, not just in building fabs. He also suggest long term investment in education and public infrastructure. Ravi's quote is "You have to put your money where the mouth is" . He sees China did this and reaping the benefits out of such long term investment and speedy decision and actions.
One of the person who is working in strategic public sector enterprise who don't want to be named whom I met at event, simply put it to me "semiconductor ecosystem (manufacturing) is missing in India"
I have been writing on India semiconductor fab since 2008. I could remember when I asked Madhavan Nair, X-Chairman of ISRO in a press interaction in the year 2010, about the need of India having a semiconductor fab, He said "India badly needs semiconductor fab. Compared to other countries, we have not invested in this area, and at least now, we should seriously think. In the last two years, a lot of discussions were going on, but nothing concrete has taken place. Looking at the volume of the business India has got in terms of communication and computers equipment, we need a fab. The industry should come together and the government should also support the initiative". Read that article at: http://www.ecewire.com/section/news/nw100010281.html.
So since 2010 nothing concrete has taken place except some steps to keep the hopes of India entry into chip manufacturing alive. Only talking and discussing with no solid ground action. Top patriotic tech-brains in this domain are continuously working on this. Only time and India's growing capability in this area can answer these questions I believe. There is some momentum build up for year 2023 to witness some big actions, by 12 months from now, we will be knowing whether the momentum is strong enough.
In the Pic (From L to R): Dr. Primit Parekh, Dr. Ritu Sodhi, Dr. Ravi Todi, Mr. Sameer Pendharkar and Dr. Shekar Mallikarjunaswamy.
Author: Srinivasa Reddy N