Collaboration and cooperation between industry and academia have propelled Taiwan’s chip manufacturing sector to the world’s top spot, said an official from the industry’s research wing.

A rise in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic for semiconductor chips used in the automobile and electronics industries has shed light on Taiwan’s booming industry, which has a production value of more than $115 billion last year, with its total output ranking second globally.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Wen-kuan Yeh, director-general of the Taiwan Semiconductor Research Institute (TSRI) under the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs), said the credit for Taiwan’s success in cultivating talent goes to the National Nano Device Lab (NDL), which was founded in 1988 to foster high-caliber talent and facilitate industry-academia joint research programs.

Taiwan’s frontrunner in the electronics industry holds a 30% market share of the world’s semiconductor industry, he said, referring to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) at Taipei’s science park, which hosts a complete semiconductor industry, from integrated circuit (IC) design to manufacturing, packaging and testing as well as support industries producing wafers, masks and chemicals.

Investments in research, development important

Wen-kuan, who has a Ph.D. in electronics engineering, said with travel restrictions last year due to the pandemic, “new IC technologies expanded capacity to meet rising global demand for 5G, and high-performance computing applications.”

To boost research and manufacturing, two organizations amalgamated in 2019 to form the TSRI, with an annual budget of $42 million, he added.

“Taiwan’s crucial semiconductor industry is set to grow 5% in 2021 on the back of rising demand for artificial intelligence applications and 5G telecommunications infrastructure,” he said.

He said between 2010 and 2020, the NDL, Chip Implementation Center (CIC), and TSRI annually contributed 400 research projects, trained more than 9,000 graduate students in IC design, 5,000 in semiconductor fabrication, and facilitated the development of more than 1,800 chips and system prototypes.

To keep the work going on, a consortium of universities led by the National Taiwan University (NTU), National Tsing Hua University (NTHU), National Chiao Tung University (NCTU), and National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) will train a total of 4,800 master’s and doctoral degree holders, beginning as early as this year.

In addition, an investment of $337.8 million over the next 12 years will be made to establish four national semiconductor research institutes.

Wen-kuan said Taiwan’s annual semiconductor production value increased 24.7% last year and “is projected to grow 12.0% this year, outperforming the rest of the world for three consecutive years.”

“Leading companies are investing in research and development with the aim to make Taiwan an advanced semiconductor manufacturing process center,” he added.

World’s largest semiconductor foundry in Taiwan

Wen-kuan said Taiwan leads the world in semiconductor foundries, IC packaging, and testing, with global market shares of more than 70% and 50%, respectively, and is second only to the US in chip design, with a global market share of more than 18%.

Taiwan has the world’s largest semiconductor foundry, TSMC, as well as the largest IC packaging and testing firm, Advanced Semiconductor Engineering, Inc. or ASE, he said.

“The total output value of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry is ranked second globally,” he said.

In 1980, the then-Taiwanese government established the Hsinchu Science Park (HSP), which eventually became known as the Silicon Valley of the East.

Wen-kuan said a year later, joint investments by corporates and the government resulted in what was known as United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC) – thus laying the foundation of semiconductor manufacturing in Taiwan.

Wen-kuan stated that a year later, joint investments by corporations and the government resulted in United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC) laying the groundwork for Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturing.

The semiconductor industry finally moved from a trade deficit to a trade surplus in 2002, with major exports to Southeast Asian countries, he added.

He said TSMC and UMC are the two largest contract chipmakers globally, while MediaTek is the fourth-largest fabless semiconductor company globally.

Cultivation of talent key element

The TSRI director-general said the cultivation of talent “has been a key element in the ongoing success of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry.”

Dr. Simon Sze, a Bell Labs engineer who invented floating-gate non-volatile semiconductor memory and wrote the famous textbook “Physics of Semiconductor Devices,” started cultivating talent in 1966, giving lectures at various Taiwanese universities he said.

Sze later served as an adviser for the first three PhDs awarded in the semiconductor industry at NCTU, NTU, and National Sun Yat-sen University.

The 1968 Modern Engineering Technologies Conference was held in Taipei.

“This was an outstanding opportunity for our engineers to improve their knowledge of semiconductors in the pre-internet era when there were insufficient information channels,” he said.

“Much of the credit for Taiwan’s success in cultivating talent is owed to the National Nano Device Lab, which was founded in 1988 to foster high-caliber talent and facilitate industry-academia joint research programs,” said Wen-kuan.

He went on to say that the NDL was important in the development of nanometer technologies, advanced metallization, SiGe device technology, chemical-mechanical polishing, and e-beam lithography.

Wen-kuan said the Chip Implementation Center, founded in 1992 to develop advanced node silicon shuttles, commercial EDA tools, IC testing equipment, and system design resources for academic research teams, also proved a great help for semiconductor development.

In 2019, NDL and CIC were merged to form the Taiwan Semiconductor Research Institute.

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