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SEMI China Delegation Searches for the Secret of Japan’s “Silicon Island”

Kyushu, the third largest island in Japan, is home to the semiconductor production bases of integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) with world-class cutting-edge technology. SONY, Toshiba, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu and Nissan are among the sector’s shining stars, though a host of other IDMs tied to the supply chains of other major enterprises have also set root in Kyushu. Collectively, the companies earned Kyushu the name Silicon Island of Japan.

Kyushu’s flourishing IDM industry sprouted from favorable tax and other government policies that reduced semiconductor production costs to levels lower than elsewhere in Japan. Once the IC producers had established bases, equipment and materials companies naturally followed, leading to the influx of many parts manufacturers. Together, they came to Kyushu, one after another, to make the island a magnet for manufacturing.  

And so it was to Kyushu that a SEMI China delegation travelled for a meeting at TEL’s factory in Kumamoto to learn more about the secrets to the rapid growth of the island’s semiconductor industry and promote cooperation between Chinese and Japanese enterprises. Underscoring the rise of the Silicon Island of Japan, China will soon become TEL’s largest market, said Masami Akimoto, Chairman of Tokyo Electron Kyushu Limited, speaking at the event. Masami Akimoto hopes for support from SEMI China.

The island of 12 million people contributes to the growth of the global semiconductor industry, expected to reach USD 500 billion in size in 2019 as China’s semiconductor sector, fueled in part by government-backed investment funds, continues its rapid expansion. Despite the gains, China still lags other regions in advanced manufacturing, said Lung Chu, president of SEMI China, which is doing its part to draw more advanced manufacturing to the region through its SIIP platform. The initiative encourages pan-regional cooperation with China’s semiconductor industry to promote free trade, open markets, technology innovation and IP protection – all to help China better integrate with the global semiconductor industry.

 Delegation TEL

SEMI China President Lung Chu(L) issues visit memorial to Masami Akimoto(R), Chairman of Tokyo Electron Kyushu Limited.


Chicken shall be led by the Hen

Unlike other regions with comprehensive semiconductor industries, Kyushu’s is primarily focused on production and assembly, with more than 200 manufacturers of semiconductor equipment and parts.

Delegation TEL 2

SEMI China Delegation at Tokyo Electron Kyushu Limited

TEL built its first factory in Kumamoto, a city covered by volcanic ash in the center of Kyushu, 34 years ago. Today, TEL every month produces 80 to 90 sets of equipment, each consisting of, on average, over 400 thousand parts that must be certified and authorized by TEL before delivery to its module manufacturers and assembly into complete machines. Having blossomed over the past few decades, the island’s supply chain now supplies TEL with all its equipment parts.  

 Delegation Fajita Works

SEMI China Delegation at Fajita Works

TEL supplier Fajita Works, a high-precision plate metal manufacturer founded in 1945, is emblematic of other companies in the Kyushu supply chain. It keeps a low public profile as it serves several longtime customers and earns ardent loyalty from its workers, an ethos reflected in the change next January of its slog from “Only One” to “Great company, Great life.”

Quality is the life of the enterprise

Long before the rise of its legendary automobile and consumer electronics companies, Japan was known for inferior, counterfeited products, labeled “Made In USA” and shipped to the United States by more than 100 factories. The net effect was to shrink and commoditize American markets. The tide in Japan’s product quality and stained reputation began to turn in the 1980s, when Japan’s semiconductor industry began to produce memory with an error rate 27 times lower than its U.S. competitors, giving Japan an upper hand in quality that it would never relinquish. 


Delegation HORIBA

SEMI China Delegation at HORIBA

Kyushu-based flowmeter supplier HORIBA, among the many Japanese companies famous for their product quality, ships 38 percent of its products into the automotive market and 27 percent into the semiconductor sector. Cleanliness is as vital a part of the company’s culture as quality. Each depends on the other, with fine detail held to the highest importance. On its visit to HORIBA, the SEMI China delegation, passing by an office area before entering the factory, sighed at the sight of the spotless, neatly kept furniture and workspace: They had never seen an office so sparkling clean. HORIBA’s success is rooted in immaculate offices, factories and the company’s motto “Enjoy innovation and pay close attention to product quality.”

After Kumamoto sustained heavy damage during a 2016 earthquake, HORIBA workers returned rocks scattered by temblor to their original position, knowing that order is critical to lean, efficient manufacturing and that, indeed, “the devil is in the details.”


Delegation Kumamomo City

SEMI China Delegation in Kumamoto City


Full confidence in the exploration of Chinese market

Consumer electronics stalwarts Sony and Panasonic feature semiconductor factories in Kagoshima, the southernmost city in Kyushu and Japan, though rumor had it two years ago that Panasonic planned to pull out. The Panasonic plant, which provides batteries for Tesla, remains. The Sony facility produces image sensors for the iPhone.

Semiconductor equipment maker ULVAC, SEMI China’s most important strategic partner, is also based in Kagoshima. During the delegation’s visit to the company, Lung Chu noted that while China is the world’s largest semiconductor market, the region meets just 13 percent of domestic chip demand. Stressing that ULVAC can play a crucial role in helping China become a bigger player, he expressed admiration for ULVAC’s professionalism along with hope that it will maintain its rapid growth and leverage SEMI resources to catalyze rapid development of Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and 5G technologies in China and rise into the top 10 of global equipment manufacturers.

 Delegation ULVAC

SEMI China President Lung Chu (L) issues visit memorial to ULVAC Kyushu President and CEO Kenji Yamaguchi 

ULVAC Kyushu president and CEO Kenji Yamaguchi made clear the company’s interest in Lung Chu’s insights into Chinese semiconductor industry while underscoring its core competency of producing semiconductors for flat panel displays. The Kyushu Factory of ULVAC is full of vitality and market competitiveness.


Delegation ULVAC 2

SEMI China Delegation at ULVAC 

EBARA, a precision machinery company located in Kumamoto, has manufactured chemical-mechanical planarization (CMP) equipment for over 20 years and delivered nearly 2,400 mechanical polishing machines worldwide. While the company expects to ship 50 sets per year to China starting next year, it has the capacity to deliver 20 sets per month, enough to meet demand of Chinese semiconductor makers. 

Delegation EBARA

SEMI China Delegation at EBARA

The most telling takeaway from the SEMI China delegation’s visit to the Kyushu: Japan ranks number one worldwide in research and development (R&D) investment as a proportion of GDP and is also at the top in the percentage of R&D funds controlled by private enterprises. The outsize investment strategy has enabled Japan to maintain its hold as one of the world’s top technology innovators.

Delegation Volcano 1

Like Sakurajima, the famed Kyushu volcano, the SEMI China delegation will continue to harness its forces to build relationships with the island’s semiconductor supply chain as it works to develop win-win pan-regional relationships and foster the growth of China’s semiconductor industry.   


Delegation Volcano 2

Best view of Sakurai volcano


Gang Yao is a marketing director at SEMI China. 

Topics: China , AI , Automotive , sensors , Artificial Intelligence , IoT , integrated circuit , IC , Japan , United States , 5G , SIIP China , ULVAC , Toshiba , Sony , Internet of Things , TEL , Nissan , Tesla , semiconductor industry , semiconductors , Panasonic , Hitachi , consumer electronics , IDM , integrated device manufacturer , SEMI China Delegation , Mitsubishi , Silicon Island of Japan , Kumamoto , computer memory , iPhone , OBARA , Sakurajima , Kyushu , Fujitsu , Fajita Works , Horiba




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