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Opinion: Vietnam gives China, India a run for the money

Posted: 01 Jun 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Vietnam? semiconductor design?

Vietnam's quest of more than a decadeto establish a viable semiconductor industryhas finally achieved its goal. The Southeast Asian country is now seen as a cost-effective design centre location and a significant number of chip firms, such as Microchip and Renesas, are setting up IC design shops in Vietnam. For most designers, this is a bit of a surprise given that the norm has been to set up design centres in either China or India. This, I guess, begets the questionWhy have these countries lost the lustre?

There are several factors that come into play. First and foremost is the economic factor. Setting up a design centre in either Shanghai or Bangalore is no longer a financially viable option. The real estate prices have ballooned and office rental spaces are comparable to those in the USA. From a salary standpoint, labour costs in India and China are slowly but surely getting comparable to those of hiring engineers in USA. Does this mean that it is better to set up a design centre in the USA rather than elsewhere or does one create a design centre wherever the talent pool exists? While most US design engineers would argue that having a design centre in the USA is more productive, given the overhead of working with engineers in India and China, there is another school of thought that believes an offshore design centre can help with twenty-four hour productivity. The search to have a viable alternative for a design centre seems to have been resolved for now with a number of design companies deciding on Vietnam.

Another selection criterion beyond the cost and strategic location that is drawing tech firms like Intel, Microchip and Samsung to Vietnam is its young, energetic population that is eager to learn. With the talent pool in Vietnam for semiconductor professionals steadily increasing, it is becoming at least as easy to find people suitable for analogue and mixed-signal designs as it is in countries like India and China. "Vietnam is a cost-effective design centre and people are eager to learn and grow," said Wayne Chen, Executive Vice President of R&D and Operations at Active-Semi Inc. In addition, from a cultural standpoint, people from Vietnam are considered very adaptable, hardworking and honest. "A key advantage of having a design centre in Vietnam comes with local engineer's ability to converse with ease in English, Vietnamese and Chinese," Chen added. "That makes it easier for them to collaborate with their counterparts in China, India and the United States."

Active Semi

Figure 1: Active-Semi designs power controllers at its Vietnam facility.

As an example, Active-Semi's design centre in Vietnam works alongside designers in the United States, China and Japan on the company's IC products under development. Active-Semi has hired around 25 design engineers in Vietnam, many with a discrete electronics background but absolutely no semiconductor design experience. They have to start from scratch and be mentored for approximately three to five years to become productive. Training the design team in Vietnam from the USA was relatively easy since they did not have any pre-existing baggage of legacy methodologies and flows. The design team in Vietnam now plays an important role in designing power controllers as well as power-related intellectual property (IP) products such as IPs to control brushless DC motors.

As companies in the USA expand their horizons and set up SoC design centres in different parts of the world, they are beginning to rely quite heavily on hardware configuration management systems to enable them to collaborate effectively.

Active-Semi, for example, uses ClioSoft's SOS design data management platform to collaborate with its design centres in China and Vietnam for collaborating on complex multi-site SoC design projects. "ClioSoft's SOS platform is a great help for collaboration; it helps us with revision control and release management as well as ensuring that data is synced up at all sites without any penalty on performance, or any increase in engineering time and effort," Chen said. "Ensuring revision control is especially useful, since it allows designers to revert to a safer version in the event of a mistake or misinterpretation of the specs or guidance provided."

Active-Semi's Vietnam experience resonates with eSilicon Corp.'s payback from setting up design operations very early in the Southeast Asian territory. The chip design services firm, located in San Jose, California, boasts an extensive team of close to 300 people in Vietnam and develops semiconductor IPs using the latest 14nm and 16nm process technologies. It's worthwhile to note that eSilicon's design centre in Vietnam represents the largest concentration of the company's staff worldwide.

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