With more than 50 years in Singapore, STMicroelectronics discusses its latest investments as well as how it is contributing to the country’s talent development.
Singapore has one of the most diverse semiconductor industries in the Asia Pacific and has risen to become a key node in the global semiconductor manufacturing chain, accounting for 11% of the global market share for semiconductor wafer foundry output, according to the International Trade Administration. Singapore has nearly 20 wafer fabrication plants, has more than 10 assembly and test operations, including four of the world’s top 10 outsourced semiconductor assembly and test companies, and accounts for 25% of global semiconductor equipment output.
Singapore’s electronics manufacturing has been moving towards high complexity and expertise in highly automated manufacturing, improving continuously in terms of quality and performance, enabled by the country’s outstanding infrastructure, high quality of resources and investment in technologies. Old and mature manufacturing activities have been progressively transferred out and replaced by newer activities with higher degree of technology.
Nevertheless, the country is still not without its own set of challenges. According to Jerome Roux, Executive Vice President, and Head of Sales & Marketing for Asia Pacific Region at STMicroelectronics (ST), some of the key challenges in Singapore include talent shortage and the design ecosystem.
“Singapore’s growth and appeal to ST and other companies has led to a tighter supply of local engineers and other skilled labour,” he says. Regarding design, he notes that SMEs, in general, lack the expertise and rely very much on external design houses outside of Singapore.
To address these issues, ST offers technical support in terms of reference designs, application boards, as well as hands-on trainings to help local SMEs kick off product development.
“Through the ST Partner Program, we also qualify partners—now more than 230—with the products, skills, and resources, to supplement and extend our offer,” Roux explains. “One characteristic of the workforce profile of ST Singapore is a great mix between the very senior and experienced people and newcomers. ST has the capability to support our employees to continue to grow in their field of expertise by following and anticipating what is requested by our technology and our product and technology roadmaps. We also have the capability to support our people to grow laterally, to bring their expertise laterally to other opportunities and support functions. That's the reason why, especially here in Singapore, we have this nice profile between experienced people and newer talents. Our effort in training is quite strong but it is targeting to the company’s exact needs are for the future.”
Singapore is the sales and marketing headquarters for ST’s Asia Pacific Region. Its activities here include front-end and back-end manufacturing and testing (BEM&T), advanced IC design, packaging R&D, supply chain management, and application support. As of November 2019, the company has about 4,900 employees in Singapore.
ST is one of the leading semiconductor manufacturers working closely and in full partnership with several Singapore government agencies such as the Economic Development Board (EDB), Ministry of Manpower (MOM), and Ministry of Education (MoE), among others, to further strengthen the semiconductor ecosystem in the country.
One example is fostering talent development to encourage technology innovations and growing the talent pool in Singapore. ST has been a sponsor of FIRST (Fostering Industrial Research Success Together), an initiative of the Singapore University of Technology and Design, since the program’s inception in 2016. ST is part of the Electronics and Information Technology Academic Advisory Committee of Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education, which aims to further the development of a national curriculum on microelectronics. ST also worked with the Institute on the Work-Learn Technical Diploma (WLTD) in Microelectronics that launched in 2019, and its offices in Singapore received 13 graduates from this program.
Roux adds, “Through the ST4STEM initiative, ST is an active industry partner with the Education Career Guidance (ECG) Unit of the MoE to expose young generations to a STEM career, fostering better informed choices amongst students as well as building a widening talent pool for the continuing sustainability of the semiconductor industry.”
Opportunities and Trends
The global electronics manufacturing industry is currently facing a slowdown due to economic uncertainties and weaker demand from some end markets, especially consumer electronics. This is made worse by the ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China.
However, there remain bright areas of growth in the semiconductor applications sector, such as the increasing car electrification and digitalization. Autonomous vehicles (AV), for example, require around seven to 10 times more semiconductors than a conventional vehicle because the central computer has to communicate with various sensors and batteries.
This is one of the trends that led ST to expand its wafer fabrication capabilities in Singapore last year, targeted power devices and microcontrollers for automotive, industrial, and consumer applications. The expansion marked the company’s 50th anniversary in Singapore, and further solidifies its presence and engagement in the country.
Meanwhile, Roux notes that China manufacturers’ activity transfers in South Asia to mitigate trade disputes with America should benefit South East Asia economies, in particular Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand, as well as Singapore for high-end manufacturing.
He says one of the trends that will greatly impact the semiconductor manufacturing industry is factory automation via advanced, additive, digital manufacturing. “An exciting contribution that ST is making here comes from our emphasis on predictive maintenance, where we offer the products and technologies that can help identify equipment maintenance issues before they cause serious problems. By improving efficiency, planning, and up-time, ST’s products and solutions are working to make manufacturers more productive,” Roux explains.
5G is another trend of interest to ST. “ST is aggressively focused on a range of communications-infrastructure-related technologies which should provide the best products and solutions for customers operating in the 5G domain,” says Roux. The company expects the market adoption of 5G will continue to bring growth opportunities in all of the end markets ST has been targeting: automotive, for V2X, infotainment and telematics, and autonomous driving applications; smart industrial applications, specifically Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT); personal electronics; and communications equipment, including 5G basestations and repeaters.