Has the Indian silicon wafer fab story gone astray?

June 23, 2008

The recent news of the Hyderabad Fab City giants — SemIndia Fab Pvt Ltd and Nano-Tech Silicon India Pvt Ltd — being served notice by the local state government and to explain the reasons for their delay in setting up the Fab City in Shamshabad on the outskirts of Hyderabad, does not come as a surprise at all!

Setting up of a silicon wafer fab takes up a lot of time and money, and I am not sure how this bit is perceived by many. Also, the rate of return is not exactly immediate! Maybe, it is time for everyone to realize that semiconductor is a very different industry from any other, and there is a need to understand how it really functions! Besides, one needs to keep an eye on the global semiconductor industry and associate movements there with what kind of value would a fab in India bring to the world.

This May, I’d done a reality check on where the global semiconductor is placed. Several folks have contacted me since, pointing out my accuracy. While it is good to be spot on with the assessment of the global (and Indian) semiconductor industry, the assessments should serve as a warning for the global (and Indian) semiconductor industry — that it is not going to be an easy ride ahead!

On the same note, I had earlier questioned whether this was the right timing for setting up fabs in India. Perhaps, there is a need to examine whether we started on the fab path a bit too late! If we are found to be wrong or hasty in our assessment, let us feel no anguish in accepting that! This is not the first time such a thing will happen in the semiconductor industry, nor will it be the last. Having said that, if a wafer fab or two do start functioning in India later in 2009 or beyond, that would be exemplary!

Let us hope that the Indian silicon wafer fab story does not go astray for the overall benefit of the Indian semiconductor industry. There is a need on part of the Indian semicon planners to integrate clear vision with careful planning.

Yes, several solar fabs are coming up globally, and investments in solar/PV are rising as well in India, but that was along expected lines.

It was also pointed out earlier that investments in photovoltaics (PV) had somewhat eased the pressure on capital equipment makers and spend. In fact, 2007 is now well documented as the year when the PV industry emerged as a key opportunity for the subsystems suppliers and provided a timely boost in sales for those actively addressing this market.

Perhaps, here lies an opportunity for India, and I’m repeating this to the extent of sounding boring!

Further, even though it has been quite a while since the Indian semicon policy was announced, some feel that India should continue to focus on design services and embedded — its well known strengths, rather than go after something as mature as wafer fabs. We don’t have to ‘force ourselves to believe’ that we are good at product development? We are not!

Yes, like most things, it can change, but that would need great effort on part of all industry stakeholders. The question is: are we ready to bring about that change?

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