Purdue University Professor Mark Lundstrom says almost every week he is talking with technology companies that are considering building a plant in various states, including Indiana, to manufacture microchips and other advanced systems. He spent a career working and teaching in the field of electrical and computer engineering and is a leading expert in semiconductor devices and nanoscale transistors. Lundstrom says the microelectronics industry is quickly changing and a global shortage of microchips is just a part of the puzzle.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Lundstrom said the manufacturers always seem to ask the same question.
“The first thing they always talk to us about is ‘can we get the talent we need,’” said Lundstrom.
Lundstrom says there are projections that the microelectronics industry will need 100,000 new workers over the next 10 years. Some of those jobs will be in neighboring Ohio.
California-based Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) recently announced it would invest more than $20 billion in the construction of two microchip factories in Licking County, Ohio, which is just east of Columbus. The company says the investment will help boost production to meet the surging demand for advanced semiconductors and powering a new generation of innovative products.
Intel says at full buildout, the total investment in the site could grow to as much as $100 billion over the next decade, including additional buildings, making it one of the largest semiconductor manufacturing sites in the world.
“There are only a few companies in the world that can produce the leading-edge chips. Intel is one of them,” said Lundstrom. “It will create a lot of jobs and just know they have to pull from all across the Midwest for that.”
Lundstrom believes that will mean job potential for Purdue graduates. He says Purdue is working with students beginning at the undergraduate level to show them the possibilities of careers in microelectronics and advanced packaging technologies to get them involved in related research as early as possible.
“We have one of the largest engineering and STEM programs in the nation. We’ve been a major supplier of talent to the microelectronics industry for decades. And we really have made a commitment to step up,” said Lundstrom.
Between smartphones, cars and computers, appetite for microchips is nearly insatiable. Lundstrom says the U.S. consumes 47% of all semiconductors produced globally, but it manufactures only about 12%.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said manufacturers had less than five days’ supply of some chips on hand late last year, leaving the companies vulnerable to any disruptions in deliveries.
“The United States faces both an immediate supply shortage that’s driving up prices and a long-term threat to America’s economic and national security if we don’t increase domestic supply of chips,” said Raimondo. “As demand for semiconductors will only increase, we need smart, strategic investments to shore up our domestic supply chain – and we need it now.”
In September, the Commerce Department conducted a survey of 150 companies and it revealed manufacturers’ median chip inventory levels have plummeted from about 40 days’ supply in 2019 to less than a week.
“This is a challenge for the country to bring micro electronics manufacturing back to the US. I think you’ll see it much more broadly distributed across the country. And we’ll see this coming to the Midwest as well. And Purdue has made a commitment to play a major role in developing the talent that workforce needed for this industry.
Lundstrom says projects, like Intel’s, will also create demand for not only engineers, but skilled technicians. He says those positions may only require two years associate degree, which Lundstrom says will create an opportunity for partnerships with Ivy Tech Community College.
“This is the question they always ask us, ‘how can you work with Ivy Tech and community colleges like that because that is really the largest number of jobs are those skilled technician type of jobs. And these are really well-paying jobs,” added Lundstrom.
Construction on the 1,000-acre Ohio Intel project is expected to begin late this year. Production is expected to come online in 2025.
Lundstrom explains to Inside INdiana Business reporter Wes Mills the exacting production of microelectronics.