The global electronics supply chain is shifting. Canada must act to capitalize on this opportunity.
July 22, 2020
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 to all industrial sectors, including healthcare and clean technology, than the global electronics supply chain.
The vital importance of electronics is leading to major investments in semiconductor manufacturing south of our border. While the bulk of the manufacturing of semiconductors — the enabling components in electronics — is done in Asia, there are some North American suppliers like Global Foundries in New York and Vermont, Intel, Samsung, and soon, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) in Arizona.
Canada is in a unique position to capitalize on this trend and draw investment to our advanced manufacturing sector. We have a relatively stable economy and banking system, a highly trained workforce, and an excellent reputation internationally as a country that is open for business. Several decades ago 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.
It is time for us to become the premium location worldwide for semiconductor and electronic manufacturing. Wages in Asia are rising and the automation of factories has made labour costs less important. With enough access to capital and the highly trained workforce we are already building, we could well position ourselves to be the right place for the next 12B$ investment in manufacturing, like the recent announcement by TSMC to build a chip factory in Arizona.
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. Every year we graduate over 100,000 people with bachelor’s degrees, 30,000 with master’s degrees, and 5,000 with doctoral degrees. A state-of-the-art fabrication factory would require people with not only engineering degrees from various disciplines: electrical, chemical, physics, mechanical, and so on.
In the area of microsystems, including microelectronics, photonics, and sensors, Canada’s National Design Network supports the training of over 4,000 graduates per year. Of those, about 800 move to jobs in Canadian industry. Clearly, we have the skilled people, 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 everything we need and more to attract the financing. We can certainly find the space. For Canada to become a skilled manufacturing powerhouse, it will take leadership, partnership, and commitment. It is about time we joined the world’s most advanced economies with state-of-the-art manufacturing capability.