Singapore touts semiconductor growth as Micron readies 3D NAND production

Singapore believes the global semiconductor industry will see growth return in coming years as demand for smart devices increases and the deployment of new technologies, such as 5G and autonomous vehicles, takes form. The country, specifically, is “well positioned” to tap this growing demand due to its long history in the semiconductor foundry industry, says Singapore’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, Heng Swee Keat. 

The city-state began its journey in the sector in 1968 when National Semiconductor established an assembly and test facility and, in 1986, became the second nation globally to enter the semiconductor foundry industry, said Heng, who was speaking Wednesday at the opening of Micron Technology’s expanded fabrication plant. Several major semiconductor companies since then had invested  in the country, he said, noting that more than 60 chip players had operations here including Micron.

Citing estimates from the Economic Development Board, which used wafer capacity data, the minister said Singapore accounted for 11% of the global semiconductor market and the industry contributed more than 7% of the country’s GDP. 

Heng said the global chip industry, though, had experienced “headwinds” this year with a “sharper-than-expected downswing”,  dragged down by global economic uncertainties and weaker demand from some markets. However, he noted that these downslides were part of the “semiconductor super cycle” and that global demand would climb by more than 35% in the coming few years. 

He said growth would be fuelled by an expanding electronics market where consumers wanted other smart devices beyond smartphones and tablets, including TVs and wearables. There also was rapid development new technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things, and autonomous vehicles–for which semiconductors were the fundamental building blocks, he noted, adding these would push demand for semiconductor companies. 

With the global industry highly competitive, the minister said Singapore would have to ensure it remained relevant as a semiconductor hub by building on its robust connectivity, a pro-business environment, and a skilled and adaptable workforce.

Heng said: “We will need to continue to strengthen our semiconductor ecosystem. This includes closer collaboration between semiconductor manufacturers and their suppliers, many of which are small medium enterprises. Companies like Micron work with an entire range of suppliers, from equipment vendors, to gas suppliers to precision welders for gas pipes.”

He noted that the US chipmaker had been in Singapore since 1998 when it acquired Texas Instruments’ memory business and assets. Since then, it had invested more than US$15 billion in the country, which accounted for the majority of Micron’s global NAND flash memory production, he said. 

Its expanded facility would be used for the production of advanced 3D NAND technology, but was not expected to increase its existing wafer capacity, according to Micron. It broke ground on the fab expansion in April last year when it announced plans to add more flexibility in cleanroom space to support technology transitions to advanced nodes of 3D NANAD technology. 

Micron said: “It incorporates the latest smart manufacturing technology and processes to reduce manufacturing variability, increase yield and throughput, and improve quality.”

While the chipmaker did not say how much the expansion cost, Heng described the investment as “multi-billion dollar”.

According to the minister, Singapore’s semiconductor industry employed some 35,000 including Micron’s Singapore staff of some 8,000. The US vendor was planning to add another 500 as the new fabrication facility came online, he said. 

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