Bangalore, Jan. 13
CHIP folk SemInd and Intel have roused Indian semiconductor dreams, but no one knows when they would be walking their fab talk. Meanwhile this surprise Indian entry into their space says it, too, is taking this business very seriously.
Coming from the country's rocket maker that has crushed all obstacles in its way, that is no light talk. The Department of Space, which has quietly inherited the erstwhile Semiconductor Complex Ltd, is drawing up a roadmap for its new baby. It expects to rejuvenate SCL and put India on the 0.35-micron map in the next 18 months.
Its focus will be research into newer technology, as well as making chips for its own needs and for strategic projects that have sourced from abroad, the DoS Secretary and ISRO Chairman, Mr G. Madhavan Nair, told
SCL, the star-crossed Chandigarh-based erstwhile public enterprise under the Department of Electronics, is now an autonomous society registered in November 2005 as Semiconductor Laboratory (or SCL again) under the DoS.
Mr Nair said, "The Semiconductor Complex has been handed over to us. One neglected area in the country is electronics. We want to concentrate on this area where strategic components can be made in the plant. The goal is self-reliance and self-sufficiency."
The existing SCL facility may need to be upgraded with new technology and equipment as "We would like to go for the 0.35 micron technology," Mr Nair said without mentioning an investment figure.
The 0.35 micron (or 35 nano) technology is what the entire semiconductor world is rushing at now, from the present capabilities of 0.9, 0.8 and 0.65. To reach that level, SCL may need a fraction of the $ 1 billion (over Rs 4,000 crore) that a brand new fab facility may warrant.
An expert committee of scientists from within and outside DoS/ISRO is said to be working out the turnaround plan, investment required and how to groom SCL to take up new non-space activities to improve its efficiency
Chips per se form a small part of the total 15-20 per cent imported components used in space projects, as in the navigational computers on board launch vehicles. "These are available commercially but we feel that in the long run, we should have our own technology," Mr Nair said.
The 600-strong SCL has made VLSI circuits, railway, telecom and industrial products, critical components for DoS, BARC and the defence forces besides commonly used electronic energy meters, optical transmission equipment and electronic boards for the IAF.
The loss-making unit with the last turnover of Rs 50 crore was even on the disinvestment block.
SCL's new guardian feels it may not find the grooming for the $1-3-billion domestic field too difficult as it has its own track record and talent to hand-hold.
"We have designed some chips (at VSSC, Thiruvananthapuram for launchers) and got them fabricated in foreign foundries. The results are quite good. That means our people are capable of making such designs. Once the fabrication also can be done in-house, then we have achieved it," Mr Nair said.