Power Electronics

Our Industry Looks Increasingly Global

A few months ago, we ran an Executive Viewpoint column that posed the question, “Is Your Job Going To China?” The author wasn't merely asking the question, but rather discussing the reasons why many power-supply design jobs are likely to move to China. I expected that this analysis might generate some rather heated reactions from readers. But the anticipated firestorm never did erupt. Our e-mail didn't get clogged with missives refuting the Executive Viewpoint writer's position. Nor were there many letters bemoaning the potential loss of engineering jobs.

Perhaps the underreaction simply reflects an acceptance on the part of power-supply designers that many engineering jobs will ultimately migrate (along with manufacturing) to lower-cost regions of the world. Or could it be that engineers have realized that engineering, like manufacturing, has simply become a global enterprise that seeks out both labor and customers all over the world? I'm beginning to believe that the latter is the case based on news reports and feedback I've received from various power semiconductor vendors.

It's no secret that many power chip vendors have established design centers in China, either for supporting the customers' applications or for IC design. Although the design centers in China have garnered much attention, power chip vendors have really been spreading their operations across the globe for some time. With or without fanfare, power chip makers have been opening design centers in India — which, like China, is eyed for its huge market potential — in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Lately, I've heard several power IC vendors point to Brazil as another emerging market they're striving to support because of the growing electronics industry in that country. For example, Fairchild Semiconductor just announced the opening of its Global Power Resource design center in Sao Paulo. This facility was created to assist customers in Brazil and other parts of South America with power system design in automotive, lighting, motor drive, telecom and consumer electronics applications.

According to the company, it's opening this design center in response to “the burgeoning high-technology markets in South America.” As evidence of these growing markets, Fairchild points to the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics' (WSTS's) data on semiconductor sales in South America. According to Fairchild, WSTS projects a 14% growth rate in these sales in 2006 and nearly 10% growth in sales in 2007. Import duties and tariffs, which encourage companies to design and build products in Brazil, provide further incentive for establishing design centers there.

Fairchild joins several other chip suppliers that have recognized the market potential in the region. In early 2005, STMicroelectronics set up an application lab in Sao Paulo for the development and customization of design solutions for the Brazilian market. One of the key markets targeted by ST was digital TV.

Another vendor, Freescale Semiconductor opened a design center in 1997. At Freescale's Brazil Semiconductor Technology Center, engineers perform IC design, applications support and software support. This center, which employs about 120 people, currently services the company's analog, mixed-signal and power-products division for the automotive, consumer and industrial markets, while also supporting other product divisions in the company.

Meanwhile, Texas Instruments indicates it has been active in Brazil since 1962. Although its power IC design activities there are limited, TI says it aggressively supports the emerging Brazilian power market in several ways. This includes providing technical support through technical sales and field application engineers, who have the ability to deliver power-supply solutions for local customers. The company also plans to hold its popular TI/Unitrode power-supply design seminars in Sao Paulo and Florianopolis this coming November 29 and 30.

In the coming years, I expect we'll be hearing more about the growing electronics industries in Brazil and South America, as well as other geographic hotspots of industry development. Hopefully, these emerging markets will create new opportunities for power component and power system designers in the United States, even as they build new and competing industries abroad.

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