Charkha To Chips: Semicon India 2023 Aspires To Build A New Generation Of Chipmakers 

The three-day Semicon India 2023 was held in Gujarat's Gandhinagar. The government will be hopeful that by time the next conference is held in 2024, the country will have more achievements to showcase in the semiconductors sector
PM at Semicon India Conference 2023
PM at Semicon India Conference 2023

Almost a century ago, India’s struggle for independence from the colonial British rule found a symbol of inspiration in the indigenous ‘charkha’ (spinning wheel). Popularised by Mahatma Gandhi, the portable device for spinning thread was seen as an emancipatory tool that gave social and economic self-reliance to Indians aspiring for freedom. The charkha used by Gandhi is still preserved in Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad. Not too far from this famous abode of Gandhi, India organised a three-day conference on semiconductors in Gandhinagar, Gujarat from 28 to 30 July, 2023. This time around, the world’s most populated country is banking on chips to decrease its technological reliance on other nations. Hence, the event came up with the tagline: Charkha to Chips. 

Earlier this year, India announced its foray into the world of semiconductors by bagging a $2.75 billion project from US-based Micron Technology. Sanjay Mehrotra, CEO of Micron, who was present at the inauguration ceremony of this year’s Semicon India conference, announced that the first phase of Micron’s chip assembly, testing, marking and packaging (ATMP) facility will become operational by late 2024. His statement, made in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, garnered loud applause from a large crowd of young students, industry professionals, government officials, and technology enthusiasts. For the Indian government, the country's first ATMP plant marks the initial step in its next industrial revolution—one that will help India establish itself as a power to reckon with in the fast-changing world of technology. 

Inspiring Young India 

The three-day Semicon India conference, involving the who’s who of the semiconductor world, was accompanied by a five-day exhibition aimed at exposing students and young professionals to the exciting world of chips—often viewed as ‘the new oil’ of today’s world. 

From smartphones and televisions to automobiles and artificial intelligence (AI) enabled devices, chips are ubiquitous in today’s world. But for India, the lack of an indigenous semiconductor ecosystem so far meant that it is completely dependent on imports to meet its demand for chips. In 2022, India’s consumption demand for semiconductors was marked at $24 billion and it is expected to touch $110 billion by 2023.  

For youngsters visiting the various stalls at the Semicon India 2023 exhibition, there is a fascinating new world of opportunities in front of them. For Rudri Dave, an 18-year-old undergraduate student, the event iss an eye-opener. “The people at the stalls have been very helpful and broke down concepts in simple language. I got to know that semiconductors are very important for our future when I visited stalls of ISRO, Micron and others. My friends and I did not know about all this earlier,” said Rudri. 

Several of the stalls, like the ones managed by Micron and NXP Semiconductors, had interactive models that seemed attractive to the young audience at the venue. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm among the youngsters here. They want to learn about the semiconductor industry and the opportunities that are there. The various use cases of chips in automobiles were something that young students were not aware of, and our models really got them excited,” said Priyanka Jain, an NXP manager who was looking after the Netherlands-based company’s stall in the exhibition hall. 

A New Platform 

Although semiconductors have been around for a long time, it was not until 2022 that India decided to give the sector a global platform in the form of Semicon India conference. The government hopes that the event will help the country set up its own ecosystem by raising awareness about the importance of chips, bringing in investments from global players, and developing market-ready, skilled workforce.

Also Read | AMD Announces Big Plans To Invest In India  

Anil Yerrapragada, a post-doctoral fellow at IIT Madras, feels that such events are necessary if India wants to become a serious chip player. “When I was doing my engineering degree, which was not too long ago, there was no such conference of this scale. Digital India, Semicon and all that became a buzz word just now,” he said, standing next to the stall set up by faculty from the IIT in Chennai.  

For Maitri Khamar, a representative from Ganapat University, Ahmedabad, the Semicon conference is a great opportunity for students to know more about academic programmes centred around very-large-scale integration (VLSI) or chip-making. She said, “There’s not much awareness around semiconductors even in engineering colleges. For some of the students gathered here, it’s just an elective course they never took seriously. At this venue, we are able to convey its importance and the opportunities it presents.” 

Towards The Next Semicon 

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Minister of State for Electronics and IT, is confident that Semicon India will now become an important event in the calendar of global chip ecosystem. Although people were not so confident when the first Semicon took place, things have changed now, he said on the second day of the conference. “It is increasingly becoming obvious, even to those who were cynical about a year ago, that in just over a year we have travelled a significant distance,” the minister said. 

The government will be hopeful that by the time the next Semicon conference takes place, India will have more achievements to showcase. “The event was small last time; it’s got bigger now. The expectation is that it’ll become even bigger next year. The next step should be to bring chip manufacturing by setting up fabs here,” Jain of NXP added.  

Also Read | Semiconductor Industry Trusts India, Says PM Modi

After netting an ATMP facility on its shores, India has managed to create a buzz around its semiconductor aspirations. To sustain it, and to truly cut down its reliance on chip imports from other nations, India will now have to take the next steps in building its own chip ecosystem.

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