Interview with SEIPI’s Dan Lachica on the Philippine Electronics and Semiconductor Industry

Article By : Stephen Las Marias

SEIPI President Dan Lachica talks about the challenges and opportunities in the Philippine semiconductor and electronics industry over the past year, key trends and drivers of growth, the semiconductor shortage, and his outlook for the year.

The semiconductor and electronics industry is a significant driver of the Philippine economy, and the largest contributor to the country’s manufacturing sector.

In fact, total electronics exports reached an all-time high of $45.92 billion in 2021, exceeding pre-pandemic levels, according to the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Foundation Inc. (SEIPI), the leading organization of multinational and Filipino-owned semiconductor and electronics companies in the Philippines with 340 members, including manufacturing firms, allied and support industries, and the academe. The industry accounts for 61.5% of the country’s total commodity exports of the year, and a 12.9% annual growth from $40.67 billion in 2020, and employs over 3 million direct and indirect workers.

Dan Lachica is the president of SEIPI and a member of SEIPI’s Board, which is the Strategic Direction Group (SDG) of the organization. In an interview with EETimes Asia, Lachica talks about the challenges and opportunities in the country’s semiconductor and electronics industry over the past year, and key trends and drivers of growth. He also provides his insights on the ongoing semiconductor shortage, and details SEIPI’s plans and initiatives for the year.

EETimes Asia: How would you summarize the challenges and opportunities that the semiconductor and electronics industry encountered over the past year in the Philippines?

Dan Lachica: Despite the ongoing challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the global semiconductor chip shortage, as well as the destruction caused by Super Typhoon Odette (international name Rai) in the Visayas and Mindanao regions, the Philippine electronics industry achieved a 12.9% growth in 2021 to record exports of $45.9 billion. This value even exceeded the 2019 pre-pandemic level of $43.3 billion by 6%, thereby affirming the recovery of the electronics industry.

Dan Lachica, President, SEIPI

While the industry recovered last year, it was definitely not without roadblocks. We faced several challenges with some regulatory policies. However, our members adapted accordingly.

On the matter of COVID-19, SEIPI has worked with the government on the supply of vaccines, the entry of expatriates and other foreign nationals into the country as it affects our technical support and operations, and the implementation of workplace and shuttle bus guidelines to ensure the safety of our workers. We provide regular updates to our members through our weekly advisories.

Our government has been an excellent partner in working towards the resolution of the industry issues. Agencies, namely the Philippines’ Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), have been tirelessly collaborating with our organization to advocate for our industry. We look forward to working with the government to further improve the business environment in the Philippines.

Our Networking Committees, and chapters in the South—Visayas and Mindanao—and North (Luzon) address industry projects, work on local concerns, strengthen industry-academe linkages, and organize webinars for workforce development. SEIPI and our ten (10) international partner associations are likewise planning events and trade promotions, business-to-business (B2B) and university-to-university (U2U) collaborations, and R&D projects after implementing successful initiatives last year. In particular, SEIPI and ACSIEL Alliance Électronique, the biggest association of electronics companies and universities in France, were able to establish collaborative initiatives between our members.

EETimes Asia: Looking forward to 2022, which market segments are you optimistic about in terms of growth, and what trends are driving the semiconductor and electronics industry in the Philippines?

Lachica: The electronics industry’s recovery starting in 2021 was driven by the resurgence in global demand, especially for technologies supporting the work-from-home model, covered by telecommunications, consumer electronics, and electronic data processing (EDP) products, among others.

Among the Philippine electronics manufacturing exports, the telecommunication electronics achieved the highest increase of 138%. This was driven by the strong growth in data consumption and broadband usage amid the pandemic. This may continue in 2022 since the Philippines and other countries have not fully recovered yet from the pandemic, and with industry leaders understanding the value of accelerating digital transformation in their businesses to enhance their resilience and speed up growth.

The consumer electronics and EDP sectors likewise grew as more people opted for user-friendly gadgets and smart devices. In fact, the Philippine consumer electronics exports grew by 19.4% in 2021.

Meanwhile, increasing technological advances in the field of medicine spurred the growth of telemedicine and the medical electronic devices market.

Some of the technology trends that we see evolving year are 6G, the metaverse, automotive AI, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), augmented reality (AR), connected cars, electric vehicles (EVs), and robotics and automation.

EETimes Asia: Do you think the component shortage issue will continue in 2022? What is SEIPI doing to help the local industry address this?

Lachica: The global demand for semiconductors remains strong. However, the semiconductor wafer supply has not normalized. The United States, China, Taiwan, and South Korea are in a race for semiconductor wafer capacity. Tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta, Tesla, and Baidu are all shunning established chipmakers and bringing certain aspects of chip development in-house, according to a CNBC article. This means more supply for consumers.

However, this does not necessarily mean that the shortage will come to an end any time soon due to the continued pressure on global supply chains, the long semiconductor process equipment lead times, the ongoing US-China trade war, and the ripple effects of Russian invasion of Ukraine on the semiconductor supply chain.

In the meantime, we just hope that equipment manufacturers get the funding and the capacity to supply the semiconductor wafers.

EETimes Asia: What are some of SEIPI’s initiatives to help propel the semiconductor and electronics manufacturing industry in the Philippines?

Lachica: SEIPI is implementing its electronics industry roadmap, aptly named Product and Technology Holistic Strategy (PATHS), in partnership with DTI and the DOST. PATHS identifies specific products and technologies the industry must pursue in the growing sectors during the next five years to leverage on advanced technologies and increase Philippines’ share in the global market. Under this roadmap, SEIPI will develop an IC Design Lab to grow this sector and develop talents needed by the industry in integrated circuit design. We plan to set up a Lab-Scale Wafer Fab to produce the prototypes of the ICs designed in the lab, reduce the cost and lead time for prototype fabrication, and ensure IP protection.

Technical Working Groups (TWG’s) were established to support the PATHS initiatives. SEIPI’s Industry 4.0 TWG was formed to promote the adoption of Industry 4.0 among SEIPI manufacturing members. SEIPI’s member companies and universities are likewise working together in the IC Design Technical Working Group (TWG) to identify and address needs which hamper the grow of the IC design industry, including talent development and supply, and access to EDA tools. This initiative is an industry-academe-government (DTI, DOST, CHED and TESDA) collaboration with the assistance of international resources.

The SEIPI Sector Skills Council (SSC) was formed in partnership with the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) under “A Future that Works (AFW)” program funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). It aims to minimize the skills gap between higher education graduates and industry needs.

To reduce the industry’s dependence on imported materials and minimize dollar expenses for the country, SEIPI launched its Parts Localization initiative.

SEIPI is likewise closely collaborating with our government (DTI, PEZA, DFA) and international partners for investments and export promotion activities.

EETimes Asia: What are SEIPI’s plans for this year?

Lachica: PATHS includes the planned establishment of an Integrated Circuits Design Training Laboratory (ICD Training Lab) and a Lab-scale semiconductor wafer fabrication facility as defined in the DTI-funded Industry Roadmap. The Labs will be hosted by the DOST. The project seeks to merge the competencies of DOST’s Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) and SEIPI, with our members among the IC design companies and universities, to grow the IC design industry in the Philippines. We will pursue projects for training and R&D, centered on knowledge transfer and innovation, which are essential for the semiconductor and electronics industry.

Our Industry 4.0 TWG developed a baseline survey to assess the readiness of manufacturing members. The information will be analyzed then feedback will be provided to the companies. Members will be encouraged to participate in a full assessment so AOIs (Areas of Improvement) can be addressed to accelerate their digital transformation and enhance global competitiveness. This program is similarly a collaborative effort among the industry and government agencies, particularly DTI and the DOST.

The Sector Skill Council (SSC) will pursue activities to address the mismatch between the skills of HEI (higher education institution) and TVET (technical and vocational education and training) graduates versus industry requirements.

The Association of SEIPI Purchasing Managers (ASPM) Networking Committee (NWC) is taking the lead in the planning and execution of the Parts Localization initiative. The goal is to identify local manufacturers who will invest and be qualified/certified to produce the top imported materials; and effect the constructive export of locally manufactured IC’s and passive components.

We will also continue advocating for the industry’s concerns regarding some government policies and regulations.

SEIPI continues to help members ensure the health and safety of our industry workforce during the global health crisis. We consolidated the AstraZeneca (AZ) and Moderna vaccine orders of our member-companies, acquired through Go Negosyo and ICTSI Foundation, respectively. We likewise doubled our orders for the AstraZeneca vaccines to donate to the government, and worked with GoNegosyo and DOH to provide free AZ boosters for member-companies.

To keep our members and partners engaged, SEIPI holds virtual quarterly General Membership Meetings (GMMs) that cover pressing industry issues, technology trends, and company best practices. SEIPI also stages a series of webinars to train and equip the industry’s valuable human capital. When the COVID situation improves, SEIPI will hold the Philippine Semiconductor and Electronics Convention and Exhibition (PSECE) 2022 this November, after a two-year hiatus. PSECE is the premier electronics event in the country. Over the years, the PSECE has evolved into a global event that provides a suitable venue among companies and countries to promote their products, benchmark standards, share best practices, develop business linkages through the exhibition, seminars, and B2B activities, and strengthen government relations.

EETimes Asia: What is your outlook for 2022? How do you see the semiconductor and electronics industry developing in the Philippines?

Lachica: With the transition to COVID endemicity, the easing of the quarantine restrictions, and the strong global demand for electronics, we project a 10% growth for the Philippines’ electronics industry in 2022. We pray that we will be able to achieve this despite the uncertainties due to unforeseen events, such as geopolitical upheavals, the potential emergence of COVID variants, and the ensuing disruptions in the supply chain.

 

Stephen Las Marias is the editor of EETimes Asia. He may be reached at stephen.lasmarias@aspencore.com.

 

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