HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam Building the crowning jewel in Intel's already mammoth assembly and test network from scratch may be no simple task, but the executive overseeing the company's manufacturing operations in Vietnam said its planned $1 billion facility here is on track to begin production in 2009.
Rick Howarth, general manager of Intel Products Vietnam, told EE Times that construction on the company's 500,000-square-foot facility in the Saigon Hi-Tech Park would begin in December, and was targeted for completion by mid-2009. Volume production is expected to begin in September 2009 with a contingent of 500 engineers, rising to around 1,000 by the end of the year.
Howarth said it would take approximately three years for Intel to fully ramp up the plant, which will have a capacity of 600 million chip sets annually and employ up to 4,000 people.
Though it will be almost two years until the plant is up and running, Intel is hardly sitting idle. The firm broke ground in March on an office near the factory site, and has been busy readying the infrastructure and engineering resources to support its massive project in this emerging market.
Howarth said Ho Chi Minh City's "antiquated" power distribution network was one of Intel's main worries. The company is trying address the issue by building a dedicated electrical substation for the project with two connections to the national grid. Intel is taking some comfort in the fact that three new power plants are due to come online by late 2008.
"I think when we start up we'll be in a good situation. The question is going to be what happens in the longer term if you see a huge influx of multinationals and new factories coming in," Howarth said.
On the engineering front, Howarth said Intel was contending with a serious skill shortage both at the engineer and senior management level.
"What hasn't existed is this high-tech industry in Vietnam, so there wasn't a great desire for students to go into the technical field as they had no jobs readily awaiting them," he said. "This is one of our focus areas and probably one of our bigger concerns."
Intel has responded by hiring staff for key positions "much earlier than we normally would" and sending them to other facilities in Asia for training, he said.
Intel is also trying to build a talent pipeline by helping local universities develop curricula, and is in talks with U.S. universities about opening a new engineering college in the Hi-Tech Park. Howarth said the government and park authorities had already agreed to support the project, and Intel was likely to reach an agreement with a U.S. partner in the next few months, paving the way for an institute to open in fall 2008.
While the Vietnam operation will initially be "purely a manufacturing site," Intel is leaving the door open to further development, Howarth said. It has ample space for an expansion, and will decide in 2011 or 2012 whether market conditions warrant constructing a second "mirror" factory next to its original plant.
Intel has also reserved land that Howarth said could eventually house a research and development facility, though "there's no commitment to do that at this point."