Semiconductors, a chip needed to improve people’s quality of life.
The first Semiconductor Industrial Association in Spain has already seen the light of day. The four companies Wiyo (Yocto Technologies) Imasenic, Kdpof and ICMálaga have been in charge of setting up the project. The aim of the association is to cover national and international needs. Also, to achieve the necessary means to be able to promote the design and evolution of semiconductors at the level of the most recognised countries in this field.
Interview with Danny Moreno:
CEO of Wiyo and President of the Spanish Semiconductor Industry Association.
The origin of the project
- Why are you launching the Spanish Semiconductor Industry Association?
“Where is the semiconductor?” It seems that most people do not understand how a shortage of semiconductors affects them. Because it is not in direct contact, as with electricity supply. All countries and all of us have to have a better quality of life. All the activity we do in one way or another is indirectly related to the semiconductor.
The semiconductor is the seed of all developments for a better quality of life today. It is in communication, mobile phones, cars, health, food, household appliances… The semiconductor is the base from which the other layers have been growing.
When it becomes scarce, the quality of life begins to deteriorate. In most developed countries, the importance of having autonomy in semiconductors has been neglected. They have delegated it to other countries because it is cheaper to buy them. Those other countries, mostly in South Asia (Taiwan, South Korea and China) have neglected to have the latest technologies. Practically 60% of semiconductors are manufactured in Taiwan. Another 20% in South Korea. And between 5 and 8% in the US.
Does Spain manufacture semiconductors?
- Is there semiconductor development in Spain?
Yes, we have development and that’s why we made this partnership. We want to make ourselves visible in order to have quality of life, electricity, food, health, communications… We need semiconductors. The first thing we need to have is companies that design and manufacture them. We lack the part of making the mould and printing it. That is in Korea and Taiwan.
This gives us the visibility that there are only a few companies that are doing that. For now, there are four of us Spanish companies. There are others that are subsidiaries of foreign companies that we are going to invite to participate as guests to give them visibility. In other words, to make people understand the importance of semiconductors and the investments that need to be made. This motivation for companies that already have the technology must obviously be provided by the state.
The Minister of Industry has already said that yes, it is important. It is already being understood, but the push has to be stronger because at the moment, what we want, all countries want. Now we are all competing to get some of these four companies to set up in Spain.
- He insisted on the importance of semiconductors in the quality of people’s lives. To be clear, how do semiconductors control people’s lives?
In virtually all sectors. In Health . We all go, we diagnose ourselves… All the processing, the sensors, the diagnostics… are based on semiconductors. If there were no semiconductors, we would be like we were 200 years ago. For diagnostics to be effective they need semiconductors.
In Power . If we didn’t have all the sensing to detect food spoilage, the quality, the studies, what’s the best way to process it… All that depends on those semiconductor devices. In Electricity . The whole part of automation, transport or generation is done with semiconductors.
The big sectors that give us quality of life depend on semiconductors. All the devices we have at home work because they have semiconductors. Cars are full of semiconductors, not to mention electric cars…
The origin of the semiconductor crisis
- What is the reason for the current shortage? A year ago, no one had heard of semiconductors…
There are several factors. One is that development up to now was evolving little by little. We all had our computers, electronic equipment… But we were doing it little by little. It was an evolution. When there is an evolution, I can perfectly calculate what the demand is going to be next year.
What has changed? The coronavirus. We realised that we had to stay at home, we had nothing to do and we had to have the computer to know what was going on in the outside world, we had to have entertainment… Then everybody started to increase the demand because now we need more computers at home.
Also in companies. We have a lot of employees working from home and they need more communications, computers, internet of things (IoT), connections, the cloud… Every little thing that was not so visible started to increase, but already in a revolutionary way, not evolutionary. That turning point because of the coronavirus made everything increase. We all order food or buy it at home… I want it at home because we already have that quality of life. We’ve realised that it’s fabulous and now we want it permanent.
Another factor is that the revolution, not evolution, of promoting environmental pollution. All governments say “We are going to have electric cars”. And the electric car has more semiconductors than the fuel car.
- This semiconductor crisis, coupled with the shortage of raw materials, global supply problems… Have they taught us all at once that we need to be less dependent on the outside world?
Yes, if we understand that semiconductors are a strategic product, how can I not have it in the country? Not only in Spain, but also in Europe. We have to have it in the country so as not to depend on others. Transport, negotiations, dependence… That makes us weaker as a country.
We could not hand over a strategic industry to third parties. Health is not something we hand over to another country. I am not a politician, I am an engineer, but it is important to emphasise more and more that the semiconductor industry is a strategic sector. Therefore, we need the support of the state to implement it. The state has to promote it, it has to give it all the benefits that can be given to an industry so that it sets up here and not in another country.
- Do we need international companies to come to Spain to produce these semiconductors?
The technology is in Europe, but practically all their equipment goes to Asia. Obviously, China has also realised the shortage and has a monopoly on purchases. So, if they are installed here, we have the equipment here, we have the consumption here. And we don’t have to go to other countries, the whole economy around semiconductors would be lifted. The industrial ecosystem around it would also rise and the economy would grow.
Relations with the Administration
We have just created the Association. We have met to draw up the main lines that we need to make visible. We have not yet approached any government body to coordinate the improvement that we are proposing. We hope that soon we will be able to do something of national interest.
At the level of human resources, at the level of professionals being trained in the universities, it is so high and so good that everyone who has visited Spain has been amazed, that it is equal to or higher than any country with the highest level of semiconductor development. But what happens to these professionals when there are not enough companies? They come from other countries and take them away. We have to make the ecosystem for them to come back.
Lack of talent
- So, do we have enough qualified people to go into this industry?
The largest semiconductor manufacturer is TSMC. The director of this company for the whole of Europe came out of the Polytechnic University of Madrid. He is Spanish, he wants to promote it… They have taken staff from here.
- There are many sectors, especially those linked to technology, which complain that there is a lack of talent and personnel. If this industry were to start up in Spain, shouldn’t it have problems of this kind?
I would say that there is a lack of companies to absorb it. The university produces them. Unfortunately, universities have to do more ‘marketing’. They are such technical professionals that they have not done the part of getting to know them. But, within Spain, in Germany they do know them because they come to take them away. Yes, they are there, but we have to have the industry here so that they don’t take them away.
The future of semiconductors in Spain
- When will it be possible to make Spain less dependent on the semiconductor market abroad?
Fortunately, the Spanish and European market is attractive for semiconductor manufacturers to set up shop. Intel, TSMC and Samsung are all interested in coming to Europe. They are currently evaluating in which European country they are going to set up. What are they asking for? That those who are going to use their semiconductors have large industries that do so.
Spain has the second largest car industry in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. There is the aeronautics industry. The food we process for export… There is an ecosystem to come. And the government is aware that it would be important to have semiconductor companies in Spain. We have to give them certain tax, location, water, energy incentives… We are not far from being able to do so, but we have to remember that all countries are competing. That’s why we have to motivate them a little more to come to Spain.
In a strategic sector, five years is nothing. It is not a problem. And when a decision is made, everything is already focused on that. The increase in the economy is already starting. You don’t have to wait five years to start seeing results.