Infineon’s Chua Chee Seong Discusses Global AI Innovation Hub in Singapore

Article By : Stephen Las Marias

Chua Chee Seong, President and Managing Director, Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific, discusses their plan for locating a global AI innovation hub in Singapore...

Infineon Technologies has marked its 50th year in Singapore by announcing plans to make it a global artificial intelligence (AI) innovation hub by 2023.

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (on stage) with Infineon CEO Dr. Reinhard Ploss (via video from Munich) jointly signed a digital plaque to mark the launch of ARISE, the AI initiative for Singapore to be the global AI innovation hub for Infineon.

Under this, Infineon will empower its Singapore workforce to be capable of deploying and developing AI solutions in all business functions. More than 1,000 employees will be upskilled and around 25 unique AI projects covering the entire value chain of activities in Singapore will be deployed. The company has budgeted more than S$27 million (US$20.26 million) to prepare for a future driven by AI. The investment will cover infrastructure, AI projects, employee reskilling, and collaborations with ecosystem partners.

In an interview with EE Times Asia, Chua Chee Seong, President and Managing Director, Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific, discusses the rationale behind this; the company’s major milestones in its 50-year history in Singapore; and the industry sectors they are seeing growth over the next year.

Chua Chee Seong, President and Managing Director, Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific

EETA: Locating your global AI innovation hub in Singapore is a major milestone. What has been the rationale for this?

Chua: As a global technology company, innovation has always been at the heart of Infineon’s business, and its emphasis is widely cascaded throughout the organization. Internally, we focus on programs and initiatives to inculcate and nurture innovation culture throughout the organization.

However, with the rapid changes taking place around us, innovation on our own is akin to a tunnel vision. Therefore, we set up in 2018 our Co-innovation Space here in Singapore and invited start-ups to collaborate with us, to co-innovate and bring solutions to market. The interactions between the start-ups and our engineers have given us invaluable lessons and opportunities in nascent applications.

We see this strength in Singapore. It has a vibrant ecosystem of start-ups, incubators and VCs complemented by research institutions and world ranked universities. Singapore, being culturally inclusive and highly livable, is also a magnet for talents and investors from around the world. Finally, yet importantly, Singapore is connected globally and digitally. It is one of the major digital nodes for a global network of data centers.

That is why we chose Singapore to become an AI innovation hub, to embed AI in all job roles at our Singapore office of about 2,200 employees.

EETA: What is the vision for this?

Chua: Infineon in Singapore has been on a transformational journey. Beginning with smart enterprise initiative almost a decade ago, we have introduced elements of Industry 4.0 in our existing manufacturing plant—transforming it into a smart factory that is not only vertically integrated, i.e. robotics and automation within the factory, but also horizontally, i.e. digitally connected to the value chain of semiconductor manufacturing, providing real time traceability. Again, we have learned a lot from this especially in the upskilling of our operators and technicians, in mindset change, and digital literacy.

When you see where we have come from, then it almost the natural next step to take it to the next level. We have a vision to transform Infineon in Singapore to be the global AI innovation hub by 2023. It is part of our company’s digital transformation journey and Singapore, with its push to be a Smart Nation, offers an ideal environment. Our AI initiative is structured and comprehensive. We call it ARISE, which represents five pillars—Augment our infrastructure; Reskill our talents to empower them with AI knowledge, and skills, and to provide them an environment for innovation anchored on AI; Implement AI-enabled projects; Share successes and build community; and, Extend our collaboration with AI ecosystem.

From now to 2023, we will proactively engage with the semiconductor, electronics, and innovation ecosystems in Singapore through collaborations with key AI organizations, businesses and start-ups, institutes of higher learning, and research institutions on new AI solutions. These organizations can work on actual problem statements by leveraging Infineon’s rich datasets to build their solutions.

EETA: What other major milestones has Infineon reached in its 50-year history in Singapore?

Chua: We began as Siemens in 1970. At that time, Singapore was the site for low-cost assembly. Over the decades, we have progressively moved up the value chain. The first microelectronics design center in Asia was set up in Singapore in 1992. In 2005, Infineon obtained the regional headquarter status with regional sales and marketing and regional supply chain located here, along with corporate functions such as legal and patent, and corporate governance. Today, Singapore is Infineon’s regional headquarters for Asia Pacific (ex-China and Japan), Infineon’s advanced final test site and global test center of competence for I4.0, and a global R&D site.

Earlier this year, our smart factory in Singapore was recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the global lighthouses for the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies.

Infineon Asia Pacific President and Managing Director Chua Chee Seong presented a token of appreciation to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. The plaque was specially designed by an Infineon engineer who used Infineon chips to form the map of Singapore.

EETA: What are some of the megatrends to expect, and what is AI’s role in each area?

Chua: Infineon’s strategy is guided by global megatrends, which will continue to shape the world in the future. We believe the four global megatrends are demographic and social change, climate change and scarcity of resources, urbanization, and digital transformation. As a semiconductor solutions provider, Infineon focuses on four key areas: energy efficiency, mobility, security, and the Internet of Things and Big Data, to address the challenges brought on by those megatrends.

At Infineon, we will use AI to accelerate innovation and create value for the benefit of society—to make life easier, safer and greener. AI is a driver for digitalization. With the trend towards Edge, AI comes increasingly into focus for Infineon and our core business. We see great potential for value creation with Edge AI.

One example to share is a smart cane for the visually impaired. This is being developed by one of our Co-innovation space partners. With a sensor that senses for obstacles, and an Edge AI controller that processes the data in real time to provide a haptic feedback, the user is able to avoid the obstacles. Meanwhile, with secure connectivity to the cloud, a remote caregiver can monitor for irregular patterns and the user’s state of health, as well as be alerted in case of an accident.

EETA: Which industry sectors are you seeing growth over the next year or two?

Chua: Our focus areas remain on energy efficiency, mobility, security and the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data. The sectors that provide growth opportunities in the next few years include automotive, as there is a trend toward electro mobility, as well as digital applications such as IoT connectivity.

EETA: The pandemic had an unprecedented impact in the global manufacturing supply chain. How has Infineon navigated through this challenge, and how has it helped its customers to do the same?

Chua: Throughout the year, Infineon has largely been able to maintain our supply chain despite the challenges as we were able to adapt quickly to changes. For instance, in Malaysia where we have manufacturing facilities, both sites were affected by lockdowns. We held dialogues with the local authorities and established strict safe distancing and hygiene measures and were able to resume our manufacturing operations safely. Apart from manufacturing, business functions such as R&D, sales, marketing and administrative were able to continue as our talents adapted to working from home.

EETA: What is your outlook for the semiconductor industry next year?

Chua: For the semiconductor industry, we are cautiously optimistic for the next year as the coronavirus pandemic, the geopolitical situation, and prevailing macroeconomic conditions all remain challenging.

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