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India moving from `fab-less to fabulous'

HYDERABAD: 'The critical mass for the Indian semiconductor industry has been reached. The time is now and the place is Hyderabad', said Prithiviraj Chavan, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, on the concluding day of the Indian Semiconductor Association's Vision Summit, here. The long awaited national semiconductor manufacturing policy is expected to be released before the union budget later this month and it would offer direct subsidies for qualifying players, over and above the incentives that special economic zones or state governments might offer, he added. He lauded the Andhra Pradesh Government initiative to set up India's first Fab City: `We are moving from fab-less to fabulous' he quipped.

Mr. Chavan was releasing on Tuesday the first ever study on India's competitiveness in the global semiconductor design business, carried out for ISA by Ernst &Young (E&Y). The study compares India with seven other destinations: Canada, China, Czech Republic, Israel, Taiwan, the U.K. and the U.S. Announcing the highlights, E&Y's Sunil Shenoy said India came out number one in the availability and scalability of talent but only fourth when it came to quality.

There was also need to demonstrate the Intellectual Property regime in action India had one of the lowest number of IPR registrations among the countries investigated.

Overall the study found India `well poised to play a leading role in the semiconductor design ecosystem.'

SCL revival

In a related development, the Union Government has decided to revive the moribund Semiconductors Complex Ltd., the first and only silicon fabrication attempt in the country. It is being relaunched as Semiconductor Lab, a society under the Atomic Energy department, Mr. Chavan revealed. It will concentrate on the manufacture of chips for strategic requirements in defence, space and atomic energy, working in the 190 nanometre space.

Solar Semiconductor company operations in Fab City

Solar Semiconductor, a manufacturer of photovoltaic (PV) modules in India, is gearing up to enter the cell manufacturing segment as part of a US$100 million expansion plan.

The plant is based in the southern city of Hyderabad, which is fast becoming India's solar manufacturing hub, where a number of solar energy projects are either coming up or pending approval. About half of the 18 companies setting up plants in India are doing so in Andhra Pradesh, as part of the Fab City project being developed as a public-private partnership initiative of the Andhra Pradesh Government.

"We are coming out with a cell line in addition to the module manufacturing in our new plant being built in the Fab City. Our intention is to make the most efficient and the best PV products in the world," said Ravi Surapaneni, vice president, Solar Semiconductor.

Currently, Solar Semiconductor has an 80MW manufacturing facility in Gundlapochampally, near Hyderabad, which started commercial production in September 2007. The company is now in the first phase of a 50-acre project, and expected an additional 120MW PV module capacity by the end of December 2008, as well as PV cell capacity of 30MW, which will be doubled to 60MW in the first quarter of 2009.

Growing Success

The company generated revenues of US$15 million during the year ending 31 March 2008, and is expecting to earn over US$140 million for the year ending March 2009.

In July 2008, Solar Semiconductor entered into a US$1.2 billion, multi-year contract for the supply of wafers from SolarWorld AG, a subsidiary of Deutsche Solar AG, which operates one of the largest multi-crystalline solar silicon wafer factories. In the same month it also signed a US$695 million agreement with AS Solar GmbH, a large reseller of solar PV products in Europe, to supply its high-quality modules for the European market.

In March 2008, the company secured a US$575 million order from IBC Solar, Germany, a large PV module manufacturer. Through this contract, Solar Semiconductor will supply high quality PV modules over the next three years. IBC Solar will also be using Solar Semiconductor's products to service its Europe and US customers.

Solar Semiconductor's family of multi- and mono-crystalline PV modules includes models ranging from 135W to 270W.

These modules employ 156mm cells and are designed for grid connect applications such as large commercial systems, residential systems, PV power plants, and off-grid applications.

Manufacturing Expertise

"All our expertise in manufacturing comes from our engineers, who come with a great deal of experience from the semiconductor industry," said Surapaneni. "Some of the senior engineers have hands-on experience and have set up semiconductor fabs. Our entire line of machinery is imported, and amongst the best in the world, equipped with the latest robotics at every critical step in the manufacturing process to ensure high quality. Also, we are one of the few manufacturers in the world to manufacture certified modules with power as high as 295W."

The "state-of-the-art" plant is equipped to work with 125mm or 156mm mono and multi-crystalline cells - cells less than 180um or 160um thick and with two or three bus bars.

In October 2008 Solar Semiconductor entered into a reverse merger agreement with US-based Trans-India Acquisition Corp (TIAC). Under this agreement, TIAC would acquire no less than 80% in Solar Semiconductor and its subsidiaries in India and the US. It will pump US$92 million into expansion activities. Solar Semiconductor, meanwhile, will have access to capital markets for raising funds, bypassing the process of going public. After the completion of the process, the entity will be named Solar Semiconductor Corp. Source: Nikkei Electronics Asia Newsletter Feb-2009