A number of government-level investments that are worth dozens of millions of U.S. dollars aimed at creating a Vietnamese integrated circuit making industry have borne sweet fruit as many made-in-Vietnam chips are now widely used in various fields.
Employees of the Ho Chi Minh City power utility are happy as they no longer have to track the electricity usage from pole to pole every month.
“Instead, we only sit at the office and update data on computers,” Tran Ngoc Hung, a power employee, said.
Hung attributed the labor-saving change to the fact that more than 4,000 devices that can remotely collect measurement data of the power sector are using the first generation of chips made by Vietnamese researchers from the Integrated Circuit Design Research and Education Center (ICDREC).
The ICDREC, a unit under the Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City, has also successfully marketed other chips used in container locks, vehicle tracking devices, digital electricity meters, and data collection modules.
The center, located in Thu Duc District, is also capable of making pressure sensor chips, which are widely used in healthcare and manufacturing.
“The chips can be used in blood pressure monitors, or water sensors in washing machines or dishwashers,” center director Ngo Duc Hoang said.
Shortly after the center unveiled its homemade ICs, the Global Technical Service, a tech firm based in the Quang Trung Software Park in District 12, signed a contract to utilize the chips in its water sensors, Hoang added.
In March 2012, Saigon Track, a Ho Chi Minh City-based tech company that makes vehicle tracking devices, collaborated with the ICDREC to help the latter with mass production of two ‘black boxes’ for cars and motorcycles.
“We have marketed 10,000 X200 tracking devices for cars and are making 2,000 such products on a monthly basis,” said Le Hoai Son, director of sales at Saigon Track.
The high quality X200 devices are able to gain back the domestic market share from Chinese-made products, Son added.
The Ministry of Science and Technology has tasked the ICDREC with developing a mega chip-making project with an initial investment of VND124 billion (US$5.78 million).
This is the largest-ever project in the history of the Vietnamese science and technology sector, according to Minister Nguyen Quan.
The chips, to be used in payments by bank, bus, and subway cards, are expected to debut between 2015 and 2016, Quan told Tuoi Tre(Youth) newspaper.
Ho Chi Minh City authorities are also launching many projects to make the city a leader in chip-making technology, including the construction of a multimillion-dollar chip-making plant.
The Saigon Industry Corporation (CNS) has been assigned to develop the VND5.33 trillion ($248.39 million) project, according to the municipal administration.
The facility is slated to begin production in the third quarter of next year.
The Vietnamese chip-making sector, however, is still facing a huge challenge: how to enable their products to go beyond the research labs to the real market and compete with foreign chips, especially those from China.
Hoang, from the ICDREC, said the researchers at the center have to find investors for their products besides focusing on their work.
“We are still unable to find an investor to mass-produce our digital electricity meters,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to see our brainchildren forgotten in the labs.”