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Malaysia foundries zero in on MEMS, analog

Posted: 25 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Malaysia foundries? MEMS? analog market? IC manufacturing?

Apart from large, foreign-owned fabs such as Infineon Technologies, Fuji Electric, X-Fab, On Semiconductor and others that have laid the groundwork for semiconductor manufacturing in Malaysia, local foundries are also finding their own niches in the IC market.

Unlike foreign fabs in the country, domestic fabs like Silterra and MIMOS Semiconductor, are taking a slightly different path to creating differentiators that would propel them further into the vast semiconductor space.

"We cannot take part in the volume game, where TSMC and other Taiwanese fabs are the leaders, but we are going ahead and, in our case, we are targeting specialized MEMS," said Dato Abdul Wahab Abdullah, president and CEO of MIMOS Semiconductor's parent company, MIMOS.

Not a TSMC competitionSilterra Malaysia Sdn. Bhd., for its part, is zoning in on analog. The fab, which provides advanced-foundry standard CMOS logic and high-voltage and mixed-signal/RF technologies, is focusing on select target markets, namely, consumer electronics and communications, RF and low-power processes.

"For these applications, we are very focused and are currently leading in some of these areas," said Eg Kah Yee, CEO of Silterra. "Today, 80 percent of our wafers are going to handheld devices."

Likewise, Yee has no designs on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. turf. "We do not compete with TSMC head on, as TSMC has to worry about filling up the 12-inch fabs and we don't have a 12-inch fab to worry about yet," he said.

To be sure, Silterra is a small fab working mostly on 0.18- to 0.11? manufacturing processes at the moment. But it is sure of where it wants to go and what it wants to do.

"We have just invested over $100 million in tools that will enable us to have limited production down to 65nm once the processes are ready," Yee said.

Commissioned in 1996, MIMOS Semiconductor (M) Sdn. Bhd. was the first Malaysian IC fab. Equipped with 8-inch and 6-inch wafer facilities, it caters to fabless companies or IDMs and works in small volumes.

"Today, we are also working with industries and research institutions that need multiproject wafer services in standard logic and customized analog/mixed-signal in 0.8- to 0.35? process technology," said CEO Nik Hanif. "For our own parent company, MIMOS, we work in the MEMS domain, and those sensors are used in agriculture."

MEMS for agriculture
Malaysia's applied-research company, MIMOS Berhad, has come out with its first engineering prototype of a MEMS sensor for the agriculture domain. It is billed as the first-ever low-cost MEMS sensor for monitoring crops. Sensors would be planted in the soil to determine the fertility and water content, while satellite links would monitor weather controls, resulting in a higher yield of crops for farmers.

"Our MEMS sensors are developed for greenhouse plants and for high-value crops," said Wahab. "Not only would they monitor soil fertility and water content, but they would also be integrated with remote-sensing satellites for weather control and linked to wireless networks, which in turn would be connected to a central database."

MIMOS Semiconductor is also doing wafer-fabrication training and has tutored more than 1,000 engineers from other fabs, such as 1st Silicon (now X-Fab), Infineon, National Semiconductor and Fuji Electric, as well as many more from China and Singapore. Currently, the foundry is mounting another training program for a big group of Osram engineers. "We are working on a training program for engineers from a few solar-cell manufacturers that are setting up fabs in Malaysia," Hanif said. "Our training combines theoretical modules with hands-on training, and the trainees are exposed to the real industry-class fab environment."

For its part, 1st Silicon, which was Malaysia's first state-of-the-art 200mm wafer foundry when it set up shop in 1998, was bought by Germany's X-Fab in 2006 and is now called X-Fab Sarawak. The deal nearly doubled X-Fab's manufacturing capacity, to 700,000 of the 200mm-equivalent wafers per year.

X-Fab is currently able to access Asia-Pacific markets with local production facilities through its Sarawak unit. The facility is working on four complex processes and has added an RF CMOS option to a new 0.18? process technology.

Booming electronics market
At present, Malaysia's electronics industry contributes significantly to the country's manufacturing output, exports and employment. In 2007, the industry's gross output totaled $61.6 billion, while exports of electrical and electronics products amounted to $83.2 billion, or 58.9 percent of Malaysia's manufactured exports and 44 percent of its total exports.

"The electrical and electronics manufacturers in the country are continuously moving up the value chain to produce higher value-added products to remain competitive," said Maximus Ongkili, Malaysia's minister of science, technology and innovation. "We are also intensifying our R&D efforts and insourcing activities, and looking for better partnerships with global majors and smaller IC design firms."

Last year, $3.45 billion was invested in the electronic-components sector. According to the UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics for 2006-2007, Malaysia was among the five largest exporters of semiconductor devices in the world. Exports of semiconductor devices in 2007 were valued at $31.13 billion, or 39.4 percent of total electronics export.

Today, there are reports that Fuji Electric, Qimonda, LED maker Osram and German packaging specialist Pac Tech have plans to build plants in Malaysia. In addition, the nation is becoming a destination for solar fabs, with First Solar, Q-Cells and SunPower setting up operations in Malaysia.

"All the technology establishments, including local and multinational, started off as labor-intensive and low-cost facilities," said MIMOS' Hanif. "But today, all of them have become high-tech knowledge hubs with a significant amount of design and development activity happening here."

- Sufia Tippu
EE Times

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