Governments around the world are recognizing the fragility of supply chains, not only to pandemics, but also to political stresses. No ecosystem is more critical than the global electronics supply chain. All industrial sectors from healthcare to cleantech to the device on which you are likely reading this article depend on semiconductors – the enabling components of electronics manufacturing.
While the bulk of the semiconductor manufacturing is done in Asia there are several North American suppliers including Global Foundries, Intel, Samsung, and soon, TSMC in Arizona. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the urgent need for a resilient semiconductor supply chain grounded in a sound geopolitical environment.
Canada in a unique position
Canada is in a unique position, with economic, financial and political systems, a highly trained workforce, and an excellent reputation internationally as a country that is open for business. In the past we were host to Gennum and Nortel semiconductor fabrication facilities in Ontario, EG&G Optoelectronic and Mitel (now Teledyne) in Quebec, and LSI Logic and Micralyne (now Teledyne) in Alberta. IBM Microelectronics in Quebec still packages the most advanced computer chips in the world and is now taking on new optical component technologies required for 5G. There is a solid foundation of industry experience and a talent pool for firms to draw from.
It is time for Canada to become the premium location for semiconductor and advanced electronic manufacturing. With access to capital and our highly trained workforce we should position ourselves as the right place for the next major investment in manufacturing. The recent $12 billion investment announced by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) for an Arizona facility is a sign of things to come, as American governments look to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to the west.
We would not have to start from scratch
Canada wouldn’t have to start from scratch, given the complexity of the manufacturing process it has become common for the industry leaders to collaborate on manufacturing process development, we could negotiate with a partner for their manufacturing knowledge as part of the investment.
Here in Canada over 500,000 students are enrolled in Scientific, Technical, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs and this is projected to steadily increase in the coming years. State-of-the-art fabrication facilities would require engineers, chemists, physicists, research scientists and of course, construction and maintenance professionals. We are well placed to supply the knowledge and skilled workers to help the industry take off quickly.
Microelectronics, photonics, and sensors
In the area of microsystems, including microelectronics, photonics, and sensors, Canada’s National Design Network supports the training of over 4000 graduates per year and about 800 move to jobs in Canadian industry. It is clear that we have the skills here and our graduates are highly prized by foreign companies who install their research and development facilities here in Canada including IBM, Advanced Micro Devices, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and many others.
We have the talent, we have access to the financing, and we can certainly find the space. Is it time for Canada to become a skilled manufacturing powerhouse? All it will take is leadership, partnership, and commitment. It is about time we joined the world’s most advanced economies with leading edge semiconductor manufacturing capability.
Gordon Harling is CEO of CMC Microsystems, a non-profit organization supporting research excellence in microsystems in Canada.