lectronic devices have become an indispensable part of our everyday life, as few of us can imagine life without our mobile phone, computer, television and microwave oven. Experts predict the next big thing is wearable tech, as on-body tech becomes more versatile, prevalent and energy-efficient.
While smart watches and fitness trackers for consumers have caught the public’s imagination, it is industrial wearable which may surprise on the upside. Adoption rate for wrist computers, ring scanners, smart terminals and smart glasses are on the increase in companies’ drive to make workplaces safer, more efficient and more intelligent.
Singapore has developed in sync with the industry. From system-assembly of consumer products such as television sets and transistor radios in the late 1960s, it now has a dense electronics cluster of over 2,900 companies in semiconductor, consumer electronics and information technology. Virtually every electronic gadget available today has some components which are designed or made in Singapore.
Singapore is also the choice for industry leaders to imagine the future. At the research institutes, researchers are working with pioneers such as NVIDIA, Infineon and Micron to push the boundaries of artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and Industry 4.0.
Riding the Next Wave
Today, the electronics industry is a key pillar of the Singapore economy. It generated over S$119 billion in manufacturing output in 2017, accounting for over a third of the manufacturing gross domestic product and employing some 65,000 workers.
Apart from manufacturing, Singapore is also a global trading and distribution hub for electronics. About half of the world’s top 15 global electronics distributors are based here. Together they exported over US$80 billion in 2016, accounting for almost 10% of global electronics exports.
The industry has continued to evolve. New technologies have emerged, spurring the development of new applications that are smarter, faster and more efficient.
A new roadmap was unveiled in September 2017 to support innovation in the industry and capture growth opportunities. An inter-agency effort involving the Economic Development Board (EDB), Enterprise Singapore as well as industry players, unions and trade associations, the Electronics Industry Transformation Map (ITM) aims to generate manufacturing value-added of S$22.2 billion and create about 2,000 new jobs by 2020.
Speaking at the ITM launch, S. Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry), said, “The Electronics ITM sets out a two-pronged strategy to grow the industry. Firstly, Singapore will diversify into new growth opportunities in the electronics sector. Secondly, we will transform the current base of electronics manufacturing and attract new investments in high-value components.”
Multi-party Innovative Platforms
To diversify into new growth opportunities, Singapore is strengthening the innovation ecosystem to better support companies in developing new capabilities. The lead agencies, the EDB and Enterprise Singapore, formed following the merger between International Enterprise Singapore and SPRING Singapore, are the key drivers.
Multi-party innovation platforms along the lines of Nanyang Polytechnic’s Internet of Things (IoT) Open Innovation Community are being organised, bringing together multinationals (MNCs), small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), research institutions and institutes of higher learning. The community is a synergistic open innovation network, bringing together key players to explore, experiment, collaborate and exploit the potential of the IoT for new business innovations, opportunities and growth. Formed in 2015 with the support of SPRING Singapore, it now has over 130 members across enterprises, technology partners and public institutions.
Since the ITM’s roll out, one platform has been formed. Launched on 1 March 2018 by the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association (SSIA), the Complex Equipment Consortium comprises 17 industry partners. They provide different expertise that can help deepen the technical capabilities and strengthen the ecosystem, increasing the competitiveness of Singapore as a global semiconductor manufacturing hub.
The consortium partners are: AEM Holding, CEI Limited (Equipment Division), EverComm Uni-Tech, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, SESTO Robotics, Kinergy Corporation, Lumileds, Plasma Innovation Labs, Semi Integration, SILTRONICS, A*STAR Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, Singapore Polytechnic, Singapore University of Technology and Design, STMicroelectronics, Systems on Silicon Manufacturing Co., SCHNEEBERGER Linear Technology and MEDs Technologies.
SSIA president C K Tan said, “As the horizontal enabler of the Electronics ITM, the launch of the Complex Equipment Consortium is an important step taken by SSIA to support a vibrant and sustainable semiconductor ecosystem. We look forward to working together with the consortium partners to facilitate knowledge sharing, harness synergy and increase opportunities for companies, academics and government agencies to co-develop innovative solutions to drive the transformation of the sector.”
Transforming and Growing Electronics Manufacturing
Given the short product life cycles in electronics, Singapore is investing in building infrastructure to attract high value-added activities and capture new growth areas.
The JTC nanoSpace is a visible expression of Singapore’s intent. Opened in September 2017, the JTC nanoSpace @ Tampines is a purpose-built development within the Tampines Wafer Fab Park with ams as its anchor tenant. It offers companies a plug-and-play, quick-start solution that meets the requirements of semiconductor operations, shortening their time-to-market.
Built with specifications flexible enough to cater to a large single-user or multiple tenants, the facility also offers a scalable environment to meet the needs of today’s dynamic marketplace. Companies can start with small production units before scaling up as their businesses expand.
ams, an Austria-based semiconductor company specialising in sensors and sensor interfaces, power management and wireless technology, expects to invest S$200 million over the next three years in a fully automated clean room for R&D and production of vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers and micro-optic sensors for state-of-the-art mobile applications. The new facility will complement ams’ plant at Ang Mo Kio and its manufacturing operations in Austria, as well as manufacturing partnerships with major contract manufacturers around the world.
“Singapore is a vital part of ams’ R&D and manufacturing strategy. We are investing in differentiating technologies, advanced equipment and employees in the region, and we are committed to long-term operations in Singapore for our cutting-edge design and process technology,” said ams CEO Alexander Everke.
Steady Pipeline of Workers
As the transformation of the electronics industry is expected to bring about 2,100 new professional, manager, executive and technician (PMET) jobs by 2020, government agencies have worked with industry stakeholders such as employers, industry associations, unions, and education and training institutions to launch the Skills Framework for Electronics.
Under the framework, there are two career pathways – the technical and engineering track, and the management track – covering 29 job roles, which individuals can explore. It also provides key information on the sector, and lists the 58 skills and competencies required, that include emerging skills and competencies, and the relevant training programmes for them.
The success of the programme will help to ensure a steady pipeline of trained professionals for the electronics industry.
MAJOR INDUSTRY SECTORS
Semiconductor is the biggest sector in Singapore’s electronics cluster, accounting for over 70% of the industry’s manufacturing output. From its modest beginning in assembly and test activities in the 1960s, Singapore is now a leading location for advanced semiconductor manufacturing. Some of the world’s biggest pure-play foundries have manufacturing facilities here. So too are many other top outsourced semiconductor assembly and test companies.
Industry leaders based here include:
• Six of the top integrated device manufacturers (IDMS) – Infineon, Intel, Linear Technology, Micron, NXP and STMicroelectronics;
• Three of the top wafer foundries – GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and United Microelectronics Corporation; and
• Five of the top outsourced assembly and test services companies – Advanced Semiconductor Engineering, Ardentec, Powertech Technology, STATS ChipPAC, and United Test and Assembly Center
Companies have also leveraged on Singapore’s strengths to undertake a range of activities, including R&D and headquarters (HQ) functions.
In R&D, over 50 companies have facilities in Singapore conducting a range of research, from process development to complement the existing manufacturing operations to new product development to seize new top-line opportunities. Their R&D spent in Singapore is amongst the highest within the private sector.
Companies have also leveraged on Singapore’s strategic geographic location, advanced logistics and information technology infrastructure, skilled talent pool and cosmopolitan environment, to set up regional HQ to control their regional manufacturing operations and supply chain. Among the industry majors with international or regional HQ here are GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Infineon, MediaTek, Micron, Qualcomm, Qorvo, Skyworks, STATS ChipPAC, STMicroelectronics, United Test and Assembly Center and Xilinx.
The outlook for the semiconductor sector is good. As exciting new mobile gadgets and low-cost applications that enable IoT proliferation in healthcare and transport are developed, they are driving demand for semiconductors. The World Semiconductor Trade Statistics estimates the global market size at US$463 billion for 2018, up 12.4% over the previous year. The increase will be reflected in all semiconductor categories led by memory, 26%, and across all geographical regions.
Companies are continuing to scale up their presence in Singapore to capitalise on the industry’s growth.
At its existing Singapore wafer fab, France-based Soitec has launched a new wafer line to make fully depleted silicon-on-insulator (FD-SOI) wafers. This is the first stage in its process to make Singapore its first FD-SOI wafer plant overseas. The company’s plan is to invest S$40 million here over a 24-month period.
“Our decision to launch this FD-SOI line in Singapore as well as the decision we already made to ramp up our FD-SOI production in France are based on direct customer demand,” said Soitec’s CEO Paul Boudre. “In Singapore, we plan to get full qualification at the customer level in the first half of 2019 and then increase capacity in line with market commitment.”
To strengthen the ecosystem and foster growth, the SSIA on 18 January 2018 organised its first Automation Supplier Day to discuss automation solutions, share best practices in smart manufacturing innovations and showcase the latest technologies. During the event, 20 potential suppliers pitched their proposed solutions to 10 MNCs, the first supplier pitching sessions for the electronics industry.
• Data Storage
Since the mid-1980s Singapore has been the data storage capital of the world. At its peak, it was the global hub for hard disk drives (HDDs), accounting for half the HDDs made globally.
With the change in cost structure and increasing regional competition, many key players shifted their operations in Singapore towards capital- and knowledge-intensive activities. These included hard disk media manufacturing, hard disk drive design and recording media R&D.
Today, Singapore continues to play a significant role in the data storage industry. As host to two of the largest hard disk media manufacturers in the world, Seagate and Showa Denko, it accounts for about 40% global market share.
• Infocomms and Consumer Electronics (ICE)
The ICE segment is a major contributor to Singapore’s electronics sector, generating S$14.7 billion in 2017, accounting for 12.6% of the industry’s manufacturing turnover. Many of the world’s top Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) companies such as Flextronics, Solectron and Venture are located in Singapore, leveraging on its capability to undertake R&D and high value-added production activities as well as to supply chain management and regional management.
The outlook for the EMS segment is bright as new technologies emerge spurring the development of new applications. Leading the growth will be new technology products such as 3D printers, ultra-high definition televisions, connected thermostats, home robots as well as wearables. Demand for smart phones, which are slowly supplanting the personal computer as the main computing platform for many people around the world, is expected to remain healthy.
The global market for mobile printers is heading higher. The mobile workforce population, estimated at over a billion globally, is helping to fuel the growth. Also called portable printers, they are small, compact and wireless allowing sales and service staff in the field to issue receipts on-the-spot or print barcodes and radio-frequency identification (RFID) labels for better inventory tracking and logistics.
Research and Markets expects the global portable printer market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 18.75% during the period 2017-2021.
Singapore has a vibrant printing industry. Six of the top 10 printer companies have regional HQ, R&D and/or manufacturing presence here.
Singapore is the regional HQ for HP’s Inc Printing Group. In July 2017, HP began a one-year programme to upskill and equip workforce across the Asia Pacific and Japan with capabilities in digital printing. Over 1.000 customers, production managers, engineers and operators from across the region attended the programme at its Graphics Solutions Service Learning Academy in Singapore.
“As we work to create technology that makes life better for everyone, everywhere, we recognise that we are at the threshold of a huge digital transformation,” said Michael Boyle, general manager, Graphics Solutions Business, HP Asia Pacific & Japan. “HP is committed to providing the necessary skills, development and support that will empower businesses, brands and print service providers across the Asia Pacific and Japan to take advantage of the growth in digital printing market.”
• Passive Components
Singapore is one of the key locations for companies involved in the manufacturing of passive component products. Two companies based here – TDK-EPC and Skyworks Panasonic Filter Solutions – produce around a third of the world’s surface-acoustic wave (SAW) filters, critical components in mobile devices that filter out unwanted signals in the environment and enable capabilities like roaming when consumers travel overseas.
Murata manufactures multi-layer ceramic capacitors, miniature devices that provide electric energy and are found in smartphones, tablets and laptops.
• Batteries and Power Electronics Systems
Singapore is home to several illustrious names in the power electronics systems industry. Energizer and Sony use Singapore to manufacture advanced lithium batteries, while Delphi, ST Kinetics and STL Energy Technology Singapore conduct R&D in battery management systems for automotive applications.
In May 2018, Energizer added new battery production lines for alkaline batteries to its manufacturing facility in Singapore which uses best-in-class technologies to manufacture batteries with significant performance improvements as well as to increase plant productivity.
Home to Energizer’s largest plant internationally, Singapore is the company’s only facility for the production of lithium batteries. With this expansion, Singapore is one of two locations globally to host this proprietary technology.