Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Finance and Chairman of the National Research Foundation Heng Swee Keat at the NTU-GlobalFoundries Singapore Research Agreement Signing Ceremony on 21 October 2019.
Ms Chan Lai Fung, Permanent Secretary (National Research & Development) and Chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Professor Subra Suresh, President, Nanyang Technological University
Mr Ang Kay Chai, Senior Vice President and General Manager, GlobalFoundries Singapore
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to witness the signing of the ReRAM Research Collaboration Programme partnership agreement between GlobalFoundries and NTU.
Today’s occasion is particularly meaningful, because this year marks a decade of partnership between GlobalFoundries and Singapore.
My heartiest congratulations to Kay Chai and the GlobalFoundries team on achieving these significant milestones!
A strong foundation for growth
The semiconductor industry has been a major contributor to Singapore’s economy since the start of our industrialisation journey.
The first wave of semiconductor companies were set up in Singapore from 1968, just three years after we gained independence.
These companies brought in their technologies, created many good jobs, and trained a generation of Singaporeans in the electronics and semiconductor industry.
Over the years, the semiconductor industry has been growing with Singapore.
More semiconductor companies have set up operations in Singapore, attracted by our skilled workforce and stable environment.
As a result, Singapore’s share of global semiconductor output grew.
The nature of the semiconductor industry in Singapore has also been evolving, with the advent of new consumer technologies and manufacturing processes.
In 1987, Singapore became the second country in the world to have a semiconductor fabrication plant.
That year, we set up our first foundry, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing.
It was through Chartered that GlobalFoundries’ story in Singapore began 10 years ago, when you acquired the foundry.
At that time, the world was still recovering from the Global Financial Crisis.
The semiconductor industry, like many other sectors, was facing weak demand in the wake of the global economic shock.
But GlobalFoundries saw the potential and decided to acquire Chartered in September 2009, for $2.5 billion.
This was a strong vote of confidence in Singapore, and in the industry’s future.
Since then, GlobalFoundries has continued to expand your operations in Singapore.
Over the last 10 years, you have invested an additional $4 billion in Singapore.
Today, the majority of GlobalFoundries’ leading edge Non-Volatile Memories, which includes MRAM, are produced in Singapore – through the five fabrication facilities you operate here.
MRAM allows for improved storage and faster data access with lower power consumption. It is also a segment with very high growth potential, with an expected growth rate of almost 50% per year.
You have also invested heavily in research and development (R&D).
Despite being a relatively young entrant to the semiconductor industry in Singapore, you have built up one of the largest R&D teams of any single company in Singapore, with more than 700 R&D professionals.
Like GlobalFoundries, the electronics sector as a whole has also invested significantly in R&D in Singapore. In 2017 alone, companies in the electronics sector invested almost $3billion in R&D, accounting for more than half of the total business expenditure on R&D in Singapore.
This investment in R&D has borne fruit, and has provided a strong foundation for GlobalFoundries – 95% of your Singapore revenue is derived from technology development in Singapore.
GlobalFoundries’ & NTU’s win-win partnership
Today’s joint collaboration between GlobalFoundries and NTU builds on this strong foundation.
This collaboration is notable for several reasons.
As Professor Subra mentioned, with a total funding of S$120 million, this is the largest corporate research partnership with academia to date.
More importantly, the partnership’s focus on ReRAM is significant because ReRAM holds strong promise for our digital future.
MRAM, which I had spoken about earlier, and ReRAM are complementary technologies.
While MRAM is more suited for applications which need faster data access but lower memory capacity – such as in Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices, ReRAM will be apt for applications which require larger storage capacity.
As we heard from Professor Subra, ReRAM is gaining traction as a solution for next generation enterprise storage in cloud and data centres, because it allows you to store data for a long time without consuming power.
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will see a greater convergence of the digital, physical and biological world. The IoT, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence will see the demand for data storage grow.
Commercially, ReRAM has not been widely adopted yet – but this is precisely why the partnership agreement that is being signed today is so valuable.
It will position GlobalFoundries as a first-mover in commercial ReRAM products.
It will also allow NTU to give its faculty and students exciting opportunities in cutting-edge research, further strengthening its standing as a world-class institution for translational research.
Creating a research and innovation ecosystem in Singapore
This partnership is not just win-win for GlobalFoundries and NTU, but also a win for Singapore and our people.
Your partnership strengthens Singapore’s position as an innovation-driven economy, and will allow us to continue creating new and exciting career opportunities for our people.
The Government would like to encourage more companies – not just in semiconductors, but across different industries – to form meaningful partnerships with academia.
Such research partnerships help to retain high-value advanced manufacturing as a core pillar of our economy, as we move towards an innovation-driven future.
This is one way that our investments in R&D can be translated into more good jobs for our people.
To this end, the Singapore Government has committed $19 billion over five years, towards our Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, with a key focus on strengthening linkages between research institutions and companies.
Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering is one major thrust of RIE 2020, and stronger partnerships between academia and companies will be key to transforming our semiconductor eco-system, and the wider manufacturing sector.
Developing a pipeline of talent
To support our research and innovation efforts in advanced manufacturing, we will need a strong bench of talent. To this end, the Government has invested heavily in growing a pipeline of talent in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Partnerships between businesses and our institutions of higher learning to nurture STEM talent, like the one GlobalFoundries and NTU is formalising today, contribute to this effort.
I know from my experience working with Kay Chai in the Future Economy Council (FEC) that he is passionate about talent development. You heard Kay Chai mention earlier how GlobalFoundries is recognised as a SkillsFuture Employer Award recipient. He has indeed led by example in GlobalFoundries.
You start young – organising outreach activities such as industrial visits and internships for our polytechnic and university students.
In the process, you spark their interest in a STEM career.
For those who have the interest and aptitude in research, GlobalFoundries also has another partnership with NTU to develop research talent, where postgraduate students can develop their skill-sets in a corporate R&D setting.
This is supported by EDB’s Industrial Postgraduate Programme (IPP).
Some of our most promising scientific and engineering talents have benefitted from this programme.
One example is Desmond Loy, a final-year PhD student at NTU.
Through the programme, Desmond has been working alongside GlobalFoundries’ researchers, thereby honing his research skills.
At the same time, Desmond’s studies in NTU exposes him to R&D in many other adjacent fields – some of which are in areas that GlobalFoundries might not have been actively looking into, but could be a source of new breakthroughs.
I hope Desmond can go on to catalyse other new R&D collaborations between GlobalFoundries and NTU in the future.
In total, at least 16 NTU students will go through the IPP with GlobalFoundries.
I am confident that through their research, these future leaders will drive innovation and help to uplift the entire semiconductor industry. They will be
Rooted in firm theoretical grounding from their alma maters,
Applying their knowledge to cutting-edge problems in companies like GlobalFoundries,
And supported throughout their journey by the Government and the company.
Such partnerships – between academia, industry and Government – is how we will continue to grow the industry long-term, and create good opportunities for our people.
On this note, please join me once again in congratulating GlobalFoundries and NTU on your partnership.
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