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Somewhat quietly something exciting is happening right here in the Saginaw Valley that many may not know about or understand very well. A new manufacturing plant is being built by Dow Corning Corporation in Williams Township that will be producing Silicon Carbide based semiconductor materials.
The first official announcement came from Dow Corning with a press release issued on September 9, 2003. It was picked up in local papers, however, there hasn't been much hype about what this means to our local economy, nor it's potential for future growth. It may be that not many are familiar with the semiconductor industry. Hopefully, this article may provide some assistance in that regard.
Earlier this month the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce held a luncheon at the new Double Tree Hotel in Bay City. The theme of the luncheon was, "Bay City On The Go." Over 500 civic and business leaders attended. The agenda included presentations from some of the businesses in the area, which included representatives from Dow Corning. What follows are a few quotes from remarks made by Jean-Marc Gilson, Vice President and General Manager of New Ventures Businesses at Dow Corning:
Mr. Gilson's comments speak well of not only Bay County, but of the Saginaw Valley.
The name of the new plant is, "Dow Corning Compound Semiconductor Solutions." It will not be the first semiconductor manfacturing business in the valley. Mr. Gilson's reference to us being the second largest silicon valley alludes to this fact. In case you are not aware, "silicon valley" it is the center of the Semiconductor Industry. Geographically, it's located in San Jose, CA and the surrounding areas which includes San Francisco. It's were the semiconductor industry was born.
Saginaw Valley Semicondutor Companies
Saginaw Valley has had a long relation with the Semiconductor Industry dating back to the 1960s. I worked 30 years for one of the local companies that was directly involved in sales to the semiconductor industry. Until, Mr. Gilson's comment about us being the second largest silicon valley -- I had never thought in terms of the total significance of semiconductor companies in the valley.
While Dow Chemical and Dow Corning are by far the largest local companies selling to this industry, there are several others supplying critical products used in manufacturing semiconductors:
Hemlock Semiconductor - Hemlock, MI:
Dow Chemical - Midland:
Carbone of America (Ultra Carbon Division) - Bay City:
Bay Carbon - Bay City:
Midland Materials Research - Midland, MI:
Over the years there have been a other graphite companies that either closed or were acquired by another company. The facilities of Met-Bay (Bay City) and Syntax Corporation (Bangor Twsp.) were purchased by Ultra Carbon which was acquired by Stackpole Corporation, who sold the local operations to Carbone of America. On the silicon side, Auburn had start-up by the name of High Performance Silicon Technology during the 1970s, but that business was short-lived. Also, a number of local machine shops have made products for these companies on a contract basis.
The majority of their work force are well paying jobs in positions such as CAD/CAM machinists, furnace technicians, engineers (chemical, mechanical and process), packaging specialists, and shipping/receiving personnel. And, of course, positions in administration, accounting and sales/marketing.
Historical Seeds of Progress
Herbert H. Dow, founder of Dow Chemical Company in 1897, may be appropriately considered as the individual that planted the seed that led to semiconductor manufacturing in the Saginaw Valley. While it all happened long after he was gone, it was his seed (Dow Chemical) that gave rise to the presence of semiconductor manufacturing here.
The following bench marks the historical events leading to semiconductors in the valley:
After 1960, all other businesses involved with the semiconductor industry in the valley were start as spin-offs of these companies or drawn to this area by their presence.
If Herbert H. Dow's life had taken a different direction, there might not have been a Dow Chemical Company in Midland, and the semiconductor manfacturing base in the Saginaw Valley may never had materialized.
Young Herbert's desire was to become a architectural engineer. His deviation into the field of chemistry was solely by chance. He received and accepted a scholarship from the Case School of Applied Science (now Case Western University) -- they didn't offer courses for an architectural degree. Instead, he chose a degree in chemistry. He became interested in the commercial possibilites of bromine during his studies which he pursued after graduation.
To the our good fortune, the large bromine deposits at Midland gave him cause to move from Ohio to here with his new business. He is considered an early pioneer in of the chemical industry -- and, his company was the pioneering business that seeded semiconductor manufacturing in the Saginaw Valley.
I worked for 30 years at a local company that is a supplier to the semiconductor industry. While I'm not an expert by any means, I am familiar with semiconductors. However, some readers may not know what a semiconductor is or how they are made.?
A semiconductor is a material that is neither a good conductor of electricity or a good insulator. There are many semiconductor materials, but silicon is the most widely used in semiconductor devices because it is more economical to produce in volume than other semiconductor materials.
Before silicon can be used for making semiconductors it has be processed into a highly pure form. What follows are the basic steps for manufacturing semiconductor devices:
There are many different techniques and technolgies employed in these steps that vary depending on the manufacturer's choice and the specfications required for the device being produced.
Below are some of the products being made in the Saginaw Valley for use in semiconductor manufacturing:
I have never seen any statistics on the total contribution of local semiconductor manufacturers to the economy of the Saginaw Valley. It has to be significant.
I believe such data is important to understanding the dynamics that comprise our local economies. During the era when large automobile plants and many locally owned industrial businesses dominated the valley's economy -- such data may not have been that important. However, those days have passed and the world we live in has changed dramically since then.
Today, small communities are no longer able to compete effectively for new businesses or even keep the ones they have. Geography is no longer a barrier that keeps companies here or an incentive for new companies to come here. Our modern transportation and communication industries have opened up the globe -- companies can successfully do business from most anywhere now.
Company's competing in a world market must provide the best product at lowest possible cost.
There has been much in the news about American companies out sourcing work to other countries and the loss of jobs here. The reality is that companies around the world have been doing this since the dawn of the industrial age. Labor intensive jobs that can be done effectively elsewhere will go to destinations where labor costs are significantly lower. Out sourcing shouldn't be alarming, it is a natural evolution of advancing technology, and it is what keeps down the cost of the products we buy. Each advance in technology typically creates new highly skilled and well paying jobs. This is where we need to focus our attention if grow the economy of our communities.
Statistical analysis is essential tool for modern companies to tweak improvements in manufacturing processes to obtain higher yields, improve quality and lower costs. Statistical analysis can be done on any subject to reach a better understanding of what action might effect improvement.
Understanding the mix of industries in the Saginaw Valley may change our approach and methods for promoting ourselves on the world market. As an example, we might find that we have a significant strength and opportunity with our existing base of semiconductor businesses. If so, we might want to use promote this as an asset directly to intice other semiconductor related busnisses here. It certainly adds an image we represent of our community that has not been commercially exploited before.
I found an excellent White Paper on this subject published in 2003 by the North American Manufacturing Association. It's called, "Keeping America Competitive." It is well worth reading by community civic and educational leaders who may be interested the dynamics of an economy driven by modern manufacturing technologies.
The following are some highlights from this White Paper.
Another interesting statistic that I've seen, but have not been able to find it's source again to cite here --
If true, shouldn't our focus be on preparing ourselves so we're ready when these jobs are available? I'm using "we" in the broadest sense! As individuals seeking employement we can do much by learning what skills we need to become employable for a well paying job -- As educators we can make certain that the course we offer fit the need. -- As a community leaders we can hawk ourselves as a location where high technology businesses can succeed. Statistics can help us support that proposition if it's real, or at least let us know what we need to work on.
Technological advances has kept the semiconductor industry booming for over 40 years and has been a continuous source of highly skilled jobs. These jobs were mainly in America until the seventies when European and Japanese semiconductor industries were beginning to blossom on scene.
Many of these foriegn semiconductor companies were partnerships with American companies that provide technology for their growth. And, many were supported by government funding in the countries where they were located. The largest of these companies at that time were primarily doing assembly of semiconductors which is labor intensive. This type of work is now being done in third world nations. It is but one historical example of out sourcing jobs in order to keep costs down.
When the worldwide market dropped dramatically in 2001, the semiconductor industry declined a whopping 32%! However, they have quickly recovered that loss and are now projected to hit $225 billion by the end of this year.
Whether or not you understand what semiconductors are, you have felt their impact. They are present in many of the products we use daily. Semiconductor devices are in televisions, remote controls, telephones, computers, automobiles, airplanes, hand-held gadgets, and countless other products.
Their presence in manufacturing will be found in robotic machines for welding, assembly and packaging. In machining, processing and inspection equipment. In computers handing data collection, accounting, payroll and engineering. They are integrated into almost every aspect of our lifes.
Silicon Carbide (SiC) Semiconductors
SiC Wafer & LED
SiC semiconductors are being used in commercial applications where Silicon semiconductors will not work.
SiC can operate at temperatures up to 600 degress centigrade versus 125 degress for silicon.
SiC has a much higher thermal conductivity allowing it to dispate heat more rapidly than silicon.
SiC has a wider band gap than silicon making it ideal for high voltage applications.
Shutting down exisiting plants and consolidating them into a new facilities located elsewhere is a costly proposition that isn't made easily. What may be desireable isn't always economical feasible. It certainly helps when community's leaders from Michigan, Bay County and Williams Township do their part to help make it happen through tax incentives. Some citizens may complain that it's just another government give away to big business, but the facts do not support that thinking. In realty, it's a small investment for adding 200 jobs and a $20 million taxable assets into our local economy.
SiC semiconductor technology has been around as long as silicon, and it has some unique high temperature properties are dramacally better than silicon semiconductors. SiC's main draw is that it about ten times more expensive to make than silicon. It's largest market has been in military and space applications where performance demands out weight cost. However, in the past decade commercial applications have been opening up for SiC semiconductors in aircraft, automobile, spacecraft, power, and communication applications.
The NASA Glenn Research Center, Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio has been at the fore-front of SiC semiconductor research that has been a catalyst for the technological advancements made in SiC semiconductors for commercial applications.
The new Dow Corning Compound Semiconductor Solutions plant will be coming online at an ideal time. The economy is is on an up swing and this is a new growth market for semiconductors. Their success will be our success as well.
Every day products are being produced by local companies that are used in the semiconductor industry. companies that provide gooding paying jobs for CAD/CAM machinists, furnace operators, inspectors, packaging, shipping, engineers (chemical, chemical vapor deposition, mechanical, materials), and standard company positions in administration, sales, accounting.
These companies have been able to compete for decades in a highly competitive market place because they have adapted well to the needs of their customers. For them there is no time or comfort to rest on yesterday's success. They are always planning today for tomorrow's challenge. It is this mentallity that the fuels the dramatic advances being in today's high-tech world.
We can learn from their success and then applying ourselves to adapt new approaches to growing our economy. By become more proactive in working with businesses in an alliance of success. There are examples of what this approach has been able to do for other communities.
Research Triangle Park in North Carolina is a prominent example of what is possible. It was formed in 1956 by a cooperative consisting of public, private and academic entities. A year later they had acquired over 3,000 acres of land centrally located between the communities of Raliegh, Chapel Hill and Durham for their research park which has become a major center of commerce. The largest employer there is IBM with a work force of 15,000. The next six largest employers provide another 15,000 in jobs.
The Research Triangle Park success story may would not have materialized except for the cooperative effort of the public and private sector there. They had less to start with what already exists here in the Saginaw Valley. In some respects, we our individual communities have been growing in this direction with MBS Internation Airport, Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University all central located between Bay City, Midland and Saginaw. But, there has been no unified theme, or plan, that has guided these efforts.
What's needed is an organized effort -- a strategic economic alliance among communities of the Saginaw Valley. A regional organization that is structured like a business with a full staff dedicated to improving our economy. Their mission would be to pool our collective assets for competing against other communities on the world market.
We can increase the odds of another Herbert H. Dow planting a seed of progress by creating a field of opportunity for them right here in the Saginaw Valley.
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