Industry Articles

Electronics Growing from Strength to Strength

SEID2122_ED01_Pix-01The electronics industry is key to the manufacturing sector and an important economic pillar for Singapore. As the biggest manufacturing sub-sector, the electronics industry employs around 70,500 workers and contributes 39 percent to manufacturing gross domestic product (GDP).

At the Electronics Industry Day 2021, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan noted: “Our efforts to grow the industry have allowed Singapore to become a key node in the global supply chain for electronic goods ranging from semiconductors and memory products to tiny integrated systems known as Micro-Electromechanical Systems (MEMS).”

In fact, every Singaporean probably already owns a piece of item that has some of its components manufactured using these technologies. Take for example the hard disk drives from Seagate, or print heads of Hewlett Packard Inc printers. They all carry the Singapore brand. Even the smartphone’s 4G connection are enabled by Radio Frequency (RF) filters made in Singapore.

The world’s largest and most cutting-edge electronics companies have continued to invest in Singapore. Companies like STMicroelectronics, Infineon, GlobalFoundries and Micron Technology are notable examples that have continued to grow their presence and conduct some of their most advanced R&D in Singapore.

Here are some highlights…

In October 2020, STMicroelectronics announced their collaboration with Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and Japanese tool vendor ULVAC to set up a first of its kind “Lab-in-Fab” R&D line to boost innovation and accelerate development of new products for industry customers. The output from the R&D facility is expected to cut across various market segments, such as smart glasses mirrors, transducers for medical products, AR headsets and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) systems, and commercial and industrial 3D-printing applications. The 1,300 square metre cleanroom, which focuses on piezoelectric micro-electromechanical system (Piezo MEMS) technology, is expected to produce its first wafers in the second quarter of 2021, and scale up to higher-volume production by end of 2022.

The move came just over a year after STMicroelectronics unveiled an enhanced wafer fabrication facility at its Ang Mo Kio “techno-park” premises, which more than doubled the company’s eight-inch wafer fabrication capacity to 27,500 eight-inch and 84,000 six-inch wafers a week. The expansion also added more than 400 jobs to the company’s 4,900-some employees in Singapore.

Infineon Technologies
In December 2020, Infineon Technologies marked its 50th year in Singapore by announcing plans to make Singapore its global artificial intelligence (AI) innovation hub by 2023, as part of its corporate-wide digital transformation.

To prepare for this digital transformation, 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 by 2023.

Additionally, the company will pro-actively engage with the semiconductor, electronics, and innovation ecosystems in Singapore through collaborations with SGInnovate, local start-ups, institutes of higher learning (IHLs) 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. Infineon is also looking to empower the next generation of employees and innovators by collaborating with NUS-ISS and AI Singapore (AISG) to offer AI courses and certifications.

GlobalFoundries, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) are in the midst of a four-year project to develop a next-generation random access memory (RAM) technology, capable of storing much more data and reading data at even faster speeds without the need for power supply. The RAM technology will support applications in the Internet of Things (IoT), including electric vehicles and consumer devices such as smartphones and wearables.

While the disruptions brought about by COVID-19 have threatened to reconfigure global supply chains, they have also accelerated the digitalisation efforts and technology adoption for businesses.

One example is GlobalFoundries who adopted augmented and virtual reality technologies to facilitate remote working. With an AI-based auto-defect classification software, they transformed the way their industrial visual inspections were performed. The technology was designed to handle high volume and a broad variety of complex manufacturing defects at GlobalFoundries, which made remote inspections a reality.

Systems on Silicon Manufacturing Company (SSMC), a Singaporean semiconductor fabrication company, was also applauded for their use of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) in their manufacturing line to cope with the shortage of workforce during the pandemic outbreak. The AGVs were used for tasks that would typically be handled by forklifts, conveyor systems or manual carts, moving large volumes of material and in work-in-process applications that supported SSMC’s manufacturing lines, without human intervention.

Micron Technology
Semiconductor giant Micron Technology’s products in Singapore centre around the NAND flash memory chips, made at the North Coast Drive plant, which was expanded in 2019.

The challenges brought by the pandemic has not stopped Micron Technology from ramping up production at its wafer fabrication facilities. 3D NAND flash is a type of flash memory design in which memory cells are stacked vertically in multiple layers, a process that achieves higher densities at a lower cost per bit. The chips are used in devices including smartphones and personal computers, as well as in data centers, an area of intense competition among American and Chinese technology companies. The capacity of NAND chips can be improved by layering more memory cells on top of each other, allowing for larger quantities of data to be stored in less space.

The company said in November 2020 that it has begun mass production of the world’s first 176-layer 3D NAND flash memory, which is the most technologically advanced of its kind globally, at its Singapore fabrication facilities.

To support NAND flash memory growth, Micron Technology announced in February 2021 that it is on track in its hiring of 1,500 people in Singapore over the next few years. These “very high-skilled roles” are for Micron Technology’s expanded wafer fabrication facility and are required to keep up with the demand for chips. Other roles the firm is hiring include those related to product and test engineering. There are also openings in global quality, supply chain and procurement roles, as Singapore is also the base for the firm’s operational headquarters outside the United States. The firm’s expansion in Singapore is in line with the industry’s confidence about the year 2021.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Micron Technology Executive vice-president of global operations Manish Bhatia anticipated the demand for cloud services to continue to be strong, as well as the need for personal computers, laptops and mobile phones, on the back of the move to 5G. The number of 5G phones are expected to grow by 250 percent from 2021.

With 2021 being a watershed moment for electric vehicles, there will also be a strong demand surge for semiconductors in cars. This augurs well for the semiconductor manufacturers like Micron Technology because electric vehicles generally have much higher semiconductor content, and in particular, much higher memory storage.

JTC semiconSpace and enhanced Wafer Fab Parks
To support the growth of the electronics sector, works are currently in progress to complete a 32,000 square metre semiconductor facility in Tampines. The JTC semiconSpace features a vibration-controlled facility with specifications to meet the stringent requirements of semiconductor operations. It offers companies a “quick-start plug-and-play solution”. The first phase was originally due to be completed by 2021, but has been rescheduled to 2022 due to the pandemic.

Other industrial estate developments to look forward to is the refurbishment of JTC Corporation’s four wafer fabrication parks at Pasir Ris, Tampines, Woodlands and North Coast to create more vibrant manufacturing workplaces for Singapore’s future workforce. The enhancements which include adding greenery, rebranded signages, covered walkways and cycling paths connected to the islandwide park connector network, will be rolled out in phases from 2021 to 2025.

Consumer Electronics
For other segments of the electronic cluster such as consumer electronics, a report from Statista estimates that revenue in the consumer electronics segment in Singapore will reach US$543 million in 2021; and it is expected to show a Corporate Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.86 percent, resulting in a projected market volume of US$763 million by 2025. User penetration will be 23.3 percent in 2021 and is expected to hit 30.3 percent by 2025.

Consumer electronics include radios, TV sets, MP3 players, stereo systems and DVD players; hardware derived from the field of communications electronics such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Data Centres
With the demand for cloud storage continuing to balloon, devices that are part of the IoT, the impending 5G wireless networks and the prospects of self-driving vehicles are fuelling the growth of data storage centres.

In a Cushman & Wakefield report on Data Centre Global Market Comparison dated 18 November 2020, Singapore was the only Asian city singled out in a top 10 list, dominated by American markets, to be the data centre market of choice.

Singapore’s position is bolstered by the minimal risk of natural disasters compared with other countries, as well as its cloud availability and fibre connectivity. In the ranking, Singapore was deemed free of the risk of floods, earthquakes and hurricanes compared to the other American cities who score well in terms of development pipeline. Singapore’s undersea cables and strong business climate have enabled developers to build data centres in the last few years. With some 249 MW under construction, and with major cloud service providers continuing to favour Singapore in their future expansion plans, the country seems like a good bet for continued data centre growth into the future. For example, Facebook’s first data centre in Asia Pacific is poised to be one of the most advanced and energy efficient data centre facility in the world when it opens in 2022. Singapore scored well in cloud availability and fibre connectivity and is expected to keep ahead of the data centre market.

Hard Disk
The Global Hard Disk Market Report 2021 valued the market at about US$62.3 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.11 percent during the forecast period of 2021 to 2026.

The Global Hard Disk Market is expected to surge significantly due to the requirement for data storage, a booming laptop market and digitalisation. Besides this, the government policies that support digitalisation and utilisation of internet portals for day-to-day activities is producing data that is driving the Hard Disk Market. Asia-Pacific is expected to dominate the market on account of the widespread adoption of technology and digitalisation with a share of 43.53 percent in the year 2020.

Singapore is a major hard disk media manufacturing location, accounting for over 40 percent of the world’s hard disk media volume, with top storage players like Seagate, Showa Denko, and Hoya having their operations in Singapore.

Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS)
The “Global Electronic Manufacturing Services Market - Forecasts from 2020 to 2025” report by Research and Markets highlighted that the global electronics manufacturing services market is estimated at US$395.82 billion in 2019 growing at a CAGR of 8.64 percent to reach the market size of US$650.78 billion by 2025.

Six of the world’s top 10 Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) companies are present in Singapore including Flextronics, Sanmina, Celestica, Jabil Circuit, and Venture. Prominent Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) players such as Asustek, Lite-On, and Wistron also have their headquarters and R&D activities in Singapore.

EMS providers are continuously investing to improve the factory performance and adapt new technologies, which aids in achieving new global standards. Increasing competition in EMS has led companies to improve their production capacity by adapting several technological transformations such as augmented reality, IoT and 3D printing.

The COVID-19 situation has accelerated the demand for computers and laptops, driving the market for EMS in computer applications. Along with the surge for smart home devices is the demand for electric vehicles as part of the Singapore’s national agenda on sustainable development. This will see a rise in automakers opting for companies to deliver end-to-end solutions and assisting automakers in service realisation, driving the EMS market growth.

Additive Manufacturing for Electronics
Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is now seen as a transformative technology, finding relevance in almost every industry including electronics. 3D printing complex electronic components could go even further with conductive 3D printing. The creation of electronic devices with conductive features using 3D printing can particularly be useful to develop IoT projects. The technology can be used for various applications in the electronics industry such as the creation of 3D printed devices like LED or touch sensors, in bigger soft robotic projects and communication devices such as antennas.

As one of the few countries in the world with a coordinated strategy to leverage Additive Manufacturing to transform emerging industries, Singapore is in a good position to harness the benefits of 3D printing to change, disrupt, and innovate manufacturing processes.

At the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) Global Additive Manufacturing Virtual Summit, held on 21 October 2020, Minister of State Low Yen Ling encouraged key players to grow the Additive Manufacturing ecosystem through strategic alliances and collaborations with NAMIC. “The Government will continue to encourage and support public-private partnerships to build capabilities in the future of manufacturing.”

In August 2020, Entegris, a global supplier of advanced materials and process solutions embarked on a joint laboratory collaboration with A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, or SIMTech. The partnership was aimed at overcoming current design constraints in traditional manufacturing – by tapping on SIMTech’s capabilities in additive manufacturing and Entegris’ expertise in advanced materials science. This could lead to breakthroughs in 3D printing that will benefit the electronics industry such as the manufacturing of semiconductor, circuit boards, and electronic components.

It could also create more collaboration opportunities for local SMEs, enabling them to be part of the electronic manufacturing value chain.

Notwithstanding COVID-19, the electronics sector has remained resilient. Amid economic headwinds, the sector grew 11.9 percent in output last year from 2019, driven in part by the semiconductor segment, which expanded 51 percent year-on-year in December 2020. Investments in the sector have been robust. In 2020, Singapore recorded S$6.5 billion in Fixed Assets Investment (FAI) and S$532 million of Total Business Expenditure (TBE) in the Electronics sector. About 1,700 jobs will be created when these projects are fully realised over the next three to five years.

With that, and all the highlights shared on the industry players, we are confident that the electronics sector can harness exciting opportunities and emerge stronger in Singapore and beyond.