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Shining the spotlight on Malaysia's LED industry

Posted: 08 Mar 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:LED? lighting market? LED packaging?

The LED industry in Malaysia has existed since the early 1970's, when Hewlett Packard started its plant in Penang that assembled LED display units and core memories for its mini computers. The industry has come a long way since then. Malaysia is now an emerging exporter of LED modules with several European and American companies setting up their base in the country. Multinational companies, such as Osram Opto Semiconductors (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd and Philips Lumileds Malaysia, as well as Malaysia-based firms cater to both the local and global LED market.

Malaysia's LED industry roadmap
In 2009, the Malaysian government launched the National Green Technology Policy to move toward a low carbon economy and achieve sustainable development after the worldwide energy crisis and the global financial meltdown of 2007-2008. Through the policy, a Green Technology Financing Scheme (GTFS) amounting to about $495.97 million (RM1.5 billion) was established that was available to manufacturers of green products and developers using green technology. These government efforts have supported and sustained the continuous growth of Malaysia's LED industry.

Another government initiative, the Economic Transformation Program (ETP), aims to utilize Malaysia's economic sectors to propel the country into a high-income nation. The program details 15 Entry Point Projects (EPPs) that are specific to Malaysia's semiconductor, solar, LED, industrial electronics and home appliances sectors.

The EPP for the LED sector focuses on the following:
???To attract more substrate and epitaxy manufacturers to complete the solid-state lighting (SSL) value chain in the country;
???To build more LED wafer fabrication plants to further develop the country's LED cluster; and
???To aggressively cultivate Malaysia's strong position as a packaging hub for SSL products.

The program also plans to develop at least five Malaysian companies into regional and global brands for SSL products and/or components by 2020. The goal is to have at least one local SSL company become a globally recognized name in the SSL market every year from 2012 to 2016.

The challenges
Cost is a major issue in the growth of the market. The worldwide LED chip market is dominated by big companies such as Osram, Nichia Corp. and Cree Inc. Initial investment in this sector is high and countries such as Germany, Japan and the U.S. are far ahead technology-wise compared to Malaysia.

In Malaysia, majority of the LED players focus on LED packaging. To produce LED modules, a company needs to invest in machinery and quality materials.

According to Razali Mohammed, CEO of MyLED Group, in order to build LED, 70 percent of the machinery should be built in-house. "Our automation machine costs $2.65-3.31 million (RM8-10 million) for one LED assembly line alone," Mohammed said.

MyLED Group is a local company that has both SSL and LED manufacturing technology. The firm has invested $54.90 million (RM175 million) to expand its manufacturing capability in the green technology sector.

Lee Choo Boo

Lee: A low quality chip can bring down the price substantially but the final product is compromised.

Another factor that adds to the costs of LED production is the lack of availability of raw and quality intermediate materials. Most of the materials used to produce LED modules such as the wafers, ceramic substrates and silicon are imported. Although some of the materials may be available locally, a number of LED packaging firms still import materials in order to meet quality requirements.

Osram is the only company that has its own wafer fabrication facility Malaysia. Manufacturers in Malaysia are still dependent on imported chips for producing quality modules.

ItraMAS Group's CEO, Lee Choo Boo, explained the importance of quality in producing LED. "With low cost chip, quality is an issue," he said. A low quality chip can bring down the price substantially but the final product is compromised and IP infringement issues lurk, the CEO said.

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