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Brazil steps up semiconductor efforts

Posted: 12 Feb 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Brazil semiconductor industry  wafer fab  chip manufacturing  foundry 

Attracting investors
Weichselbaumer's initial strategy for Ceitec is to find opportunities where the technology barriers are relatively low in markets that are not dominated by one or a few competitors. To sell the Chip de Boi device to Brazilian cattle ranchers, Ceitec ended up building the entire tag system that the RFID device goes into and has a sales force targeting ranches in Brazil.

Ceitec SA officially started operations last year. Though the company took its name from a government-backed R&D effort that launched several design centres earlier this decade, Weichselbaumer insists that Ceitec is a true start-up. He acknowledged that the company should have probably adopted a different name to avoid confusion with the government programme, but said Brazil's parliament insisted on the name Ceitec in an effort to "show continuity."

Weichselbaumer, a 28-year veteran of the semiconductor industry who has held management positions at large firms and founded some successful start-ups, describes Ceitec's progress as the most rapid he has ever seen for a start-up. He largely credits government backing, noting that the company has not had to raise money from private sources. The company currently has about 120 employees, many of them engineers from other countries. Da Silva told the audience that Ceitec would have about 250 employees by the end of the year.

While the Porto Alegre fab may not be a technological marvel, Weichselbaumer notes that the cost of the building and equipment are already written off (the building and most of the equipment were originally put in place by the government programme.

In his speech, da Silva stopped just short of accusing Japan of reneging on a promise to build a fab in Brazil. He said that in 2006 when Brazil agreed to adopt Japan's ISDB-T DTV standard, Japan agreed it would build a semiconductor fab in Brazil. But this has not yet happened, da Silva noted. He said Brazil needed to resume talks with Japan on this issue. He added that Japan's frequent changes of prime minister complicate the issue.

Da Silva did not associate a particular Japan company with any promise to build a fab.

Rezende acknowledged that Brazil has been trying to lure chip companies to set up fabs or other facilities in Brazil for years. He said Intel Corp. nearly chose Brazil as the site of a test and assembly facility in the late 1990s, but that the company ultimately built that facility in Costa Rica.

A number of multinational companies have design centres and other facilities in Brazil, including Freescale Semiconductor Inc., which has operated in Brazil since 1998. In 2006, Intel's venture capital arm created a Rs.230.89 crore ($50 million) fund to invest in technology companies in Brazil.

Rezende said the Ministry of Science and Technology supports 10 chip design houses based in various regions of Southern Brazil.

- Dylan McGrath
EE Times

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