INTRODUCING students to the real world of the microelectronics industry is the aim of the ON Semiconductor centre of microelectronics at the Slovak university of technology (ONMiST).
The centre was established in July 2000 by the Slovak branch of the US firm ON Semiconductor, which operates in the western Slovak town of Piešťany.
ONMiST works in conjunction with the Department of Microelectronics Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava (FEI STU).
The Slovak university and ON Semiconductor are trying to attract more and more talented students to the field of microelectronics.
Walt Guy, the vice president and general manager of ON Semiconductor Slovakia, said: "The centre primarily focuses on developing and enhancing semiconductor design skills and capabilities for the purpose of new product development and other related business and manufacturing needs."
ONMiST currently has six full-time ON Semiconductor employees as well as a number of part time employees who are working at the centre while completing their degrees in microelectronics.
Through the centre, talented students have the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge and experience in integrated circuit design and testing, as well as semiconductor modeling and characterisation.
"The combination of the development of a practical skill and a broad academic background provides a wealth of knowledge and excellent employment opportunities for the future," Guy added.
According to the vice president, ON Semiconductor Slovakia will continue to expand ONMiST as business conditions permit. He hopes that it will eventually play a very important and strategic role in the company's overall corporate research and development (R&D) efforts.
ON Semiconductor thinks that the Slovak government should pay more attention to high-tech education and be more helpful to companies that are willing to develop such activities.
Guy said: "We are, in general, pleased with our operations here; however, we believe that the government should be doing more to help high technology industries, such as ours, in R&D efforts.
"Many countries provide grants and incentives for the establishment of these higher added-value positions that greatly contribute to the goal of becoming a knowledge-based economy.
"We have been unsuccessful in obtaining any type of support from the Slovak government and hope that they will begin to explore this in the near future."
The American company has operated in Slovakia since 1998, when it purchased the shuttered Slovak company Tesla in Piešťany.
"The facility was in poor condition. However, the upfront infrastructure and upgrading cost was less costly than it would have been if we had started up a greenfield site," explained Guy.
He continued: "The site was very large and had significant long term expansion capabilities. There was also an abundant and competent technical workforce available right in Piešťany, so the time before we could begin production was going to be minimal."
ON Semiconductor's first wafer factory began operating in early 1999. It now has two such fully operational factories that produce high quality semiconductors that are used in almost all electronic applications. "100 percent of our production is exported," Guy added.
Since 2000, ON Semiconductor Slovakia has increased its number of employees from the original 80 to over 450.
According to Guy, the company decided to invest in the Slovak Republic due to a number of factors. Motorola Semiconductor, from which ON Semiconductor was later established, had much experience throughout central and eastern Europe in 1980-1990s.
"Some were favourable and some were not, but the investment that was made in 1995 in Rožnov, Czech Republic had proven to be a success," explained the general manager.
"From the inception of this project [ON Semiconductor Slovakia] to date, we have invested more than $50 million (€41.1 million) and will continue to invest as market conditions allow. In 2003 we more than doubled our manufacturing volume and are now forecasting significant growth in 2004", said Guy.
In addition to manufacturing operations, the company also launched a major corporate business centre in Slovakia in 2001.
"The centre provides services to all of our customers in Europe and in late 2003 was expanded to also cover a number of US customers. Additionally, we have corporate finance, IT, and customer quality organisations here on site in Piešťany. As our business grows, these types of positions will also increase," summarised Guy.
US ON Semiconductor was established in August of 1999 as a spinoff from a division of Motorola's Semiconductor Sector. ON Semiconductor acts as a global supplier of high performance power and data management integrated circuits, as well as standard component semiconductors.
The headquarters are in Phoenix, Arizona. The company's revenue in 2002 was $1.1 billion (€903.9 million). It has approximately 7,500 employees worldwide, with nine manufacturing locations and eight design centres.