SEMI is pleased to welcome Singapore-based UTAC Holdings Ltd., formed nearly 50 years ago, as a new member. UTAC is a leading independent provider of assembly and test services for a broad range of semiconductor chips, offering a full range of semiconductor assembly and test services across analog, mixed-signal and logic, and memory. Its customers are primarily fabless companies, integrated device manufacturers and wafer foundries. The company has production facilities in Singapore, Thailand, China, Indonesia and Malaysia as well as sales offices in five regions: the United States, Japan, China, Taiwan, the rest of Asia and Europe.
I recently spoke with Dr. Nathapong Suthiwongsunthorn, Vice President and General Manager of UTAC Thailand, about UTAC’s smart manufacturing advances, the company’s role in the semiconductor industry’s transformation, and the industry outlook for Thailand over the next year.
Ng: How does UTAC Thailand complement your other facilities?
Dr. Nathapong: As one of the world’s largest producers of quad-flat-no-leads (QFN), UTAC Thailand has significant capability in assembly and test of advanced leadframe products including power products such as Cu Clip packages as well as MEMS products. We also serve top global IDMs and have the largest share of assembly and test for the automotive market among all UTAC operations. UTAC’s other facilities have expertise in wafer-level packages and system-in-a-package and serves the communication and consumer market not only for IDMs but also for the fabless and foundry companies. The Thailand factory nicely complements the other UTAC facilities both from the standpoint of operational and marketing diversity.
Ng: UTAC Holdings Ltd. announced in August this year that it has completed its sale to Wise Road Capital, a global private equity firm. Will this in any way change the operation and business strategy of UTAC Thailand?
Dr. Nathapong: I don’t believe it will change the way we operate. However, the acquisition is very positive for us from a financial perspective. With the benefit of significantly reduced debt and interest expenses, we will be able to expand our business to grow with and hopefully beyond the semiconductor market.
Ng: To what extent has UTAC adopted smart manufacturing?
Dr. Nathapong: UTAC Thailand is leading the way in terms of automation, smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 with our in-house automation team and unique expertise. For example, we have built our own inspection equipment that is much faster and cheaper than what is commercially available. We also working on many programs such as mobile robot, AGV, auto inspection and office automation to help drive greater production efficiency. We are replicating our manufacturing advances and fanning them out to other UTAC facilities.
Ng: What are some of the challenges you face in pushing for the industrial transformation in Thailand?
Dr. Nathapong: I think the key challenge is to find skilled engineers who can perform hardware- and software-related tasks critical to the industrial transformation. But frankly, we have done a good job in managing this challenge by hiring very smart people, providing them with the required in-house training, and using outside training for new recruits as necessary. We have developed partnerships with capable vendors in this regard as well.
Ng: What are the key differentiating elements (e.g. talent, tax, technology, trade, EHS) in Thailand that have been instrumental in supporting the E&E ecosystem?
Dr. Nathapong: There are two key differentiating elements for us. Firstly, UTAC has been around for over 47 years and is very well-established in Thailand with a positive reputation as an employer. This makes hiring talented people relatively easy. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the nature of the Thai people and also the benefits the company provides make it relatively painless to retain key employees. I also believe that we have a significant number of engineers available in Thailand. Finally, labour costs in Thailand are still very reasonable and stable. So we are able to acquire talent at a very competitive rate compared to other countries.
Ng: What is the industry outlook for E&E industry in Thailand over the next year?
Dr. Nathapong: Surprisingly, the current sad predicament of COVID-19 has shown no negative impact for the global semiconductor industry – people seem to be buying more electronics with the lockdown. Our outlook for the Thailand’s E&E industry is similarly very positive. Most semiconductor companies including UTAC see significant growth this year and I hope it will continue.
Ng: With the recent semiconductor geopolitical and trade tensions, are more customers moving their business to Thailand?
Dr. Nathapong: I believe so. We do see some of our key customers move manufacturing out of China and into Thailand. The relocations help them offset or avoid any potential fallout from current geopolitical tensions.
Ng: In what areas do you think SEMI Southeast Asia can play a role to help our members companies in Thailand like UTAC?
Dr. Nathapong: The semiconductor industry has been in Thailand for a long time. In fact, UTAC Thailand is 47 years old this year! However, I feel that Thailand never really worked with a strong establishment organization like SEMI that can connect various companies together to help drive innovation. I think SEMI Southeast Asia can truly help Thailand to move up to the next level of providing semiconductor solutions globally. We welcome SEMI Southeast Asia’s help in this regard.
About Dr. Nathapong Suthiwongsunthorn
Dr. Nathapong Suthiwongsunthorn joined UTAC in 2009 and is currently General Manager of UTAC Thailand, UTAC’s largest operation site. Before taking over the management of Thailand operations, he was Vice President of Research and Development, running UTAC’s global R&D group. Dr. Nathapong has more than 20 years of experience in the semiconductor industry. He holds more than 40 international patents and publications in wafer-level and advanced packaging.
Prior to joining UTAC, Dr. Nathapong held several key leadership positions in research and development at Schott, STATS ChipPAC and Infineon. Dr. Nathapong has a Ph.D. in Electronics Engineering from Oxford Brookes University, England.
Bee Bee Ng is president of SEMI Southeast Asia.