Semiconductors are used to make the microchips that power everything from computers, smartphones, electric vehicles, and healthcare and cleantech devices. There are major challenges in the global semiconductor space. First, the COVID-19 pandemic showed how severely global supply chains can be disrupted, as anyone knows who is shopping for a new or used vehicle recently. Second, the relationship between China and the West is driving policymakers to find an alternative to the fragmented global manufacturing system. This is especially true for semiconductors, which are essential for telecommunications, cybersecurity, and defense applications.
Onshoring (or nearshoring) production of goods involves substantial retooling of the North American industrial plant. Thankfully, we have substantial capacity in design, build, and test of semiconductors in Canada and the northeastern US.
CMC Microsystems is the national leader in supporting design and fabrication of semiconductor devices for Canadian and international entrepreneurs and researchers. CMC works with many Canadian suppliers including IBM or Teledyne MEMS in Bromont, Quebec, and Applied Nanotools in Edmonton or the Canadian Photonic Fabrication Center in Ottawa. CMC also engages with international suppliers of advanced semiconductor processes in Vermont and New York State. The entire ecosystem spans a distance that can be driven in a few hours – and Canada is an important player in it.
In Canada, the semiconductor industry is driven by design and development work thanks to a well-trained workforce of Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP) from the universities and colleges. We are known for high value-add, innovative technologies such as exotic compound semiconductors which are essential for high power applications such as EV charging and solar power converters.
The US, and New York State in particular, are accelerating semiconductor production with the CHIPS and Science Act, which includes over $52 billion for semiconductor manufacturing, R&D, and workforce development, with another $24 billion of tax credits for microchip production.
Micron has committed to building a $100 billion megafab near Syracuse, expected to create nearly 50,000 New York jobs. GlobalFoundries is modernizing its Burlington, VT plant to produce next-generation compound semiconductor chips that Canadians excel at designing. Hurting from supply chain headaches, General Motors signed an agreement with GlobalFoundries to provide them with a secure supply of chips produced at its various New York sites. When announcing GO SEMI: the Governor’s Office of Semiconductor Expansion, Management, and Integration, Governor Kathy Hochul stated “We’re making New York State not only the semiconductor capital of the country — but of the globe.”
The Government of Canada and Canadian firms need to act now to remain competitive in this rapidly expanding ecosystem. We need to further develop Canada’s expertise in designing the microchips that will be manufactured in the corridor. This means continuing to train HQP in our universities, developing them in our national ecosystem of companies and research institutions, and retaining them to make sure that the intellectual property (IP) they produce benefits Canada.
The Oshawa-Oakville-Windsor-Detroit auto corridor is an interesting parallel. Canada seized an opportunity and developed the industrial plant and expertise to be a vital partner in the North American automotive industry. As the automotive industry changes, semiconductors are now the foundation of technologies powering electrification, autonomous driving, and connectivity of the auto industry.
Canada has to send a clear message that we will invest in Canadian suppliers and be key players in the semiconductor corridor to foster prosperity and security for all Canadians.
President and CEO, CMC Microsystems
This opinion piece was published in The Hill Times and EP&T