Semiconductor pioneer hopes to push China to the cutting edge with massive new project

By Agencies – Global Times Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/23 21:31:09

Zhang Rujing, founder of China-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation Photo: VCG

After being hit by US sanctions on ZTE Corp, China is seeking to bring its own semiconductor industry to the cutting edge to prevent dependence on foreign technology.

Zhang Rujing (Richard Chang), known as the "father of the Chinese semiconductor" and founder of China-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), is a leading figure in developing this technology.

He will soon start his third entrepreneurial career, at the Guangzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone, focusing on developing the integrated circuit industry. 

He is launching a new chip manufacturing facility in China that will operate using a Communal Integrated Device Manufacturer (CIDM) model.

The concept of this model is to aggregate companies with similar target markets, technologies, production lines and customers to share common manufacturing technology production goals. Zhang believes this model could work in China. This is different from a manufacturer that will make chips for anybody, or a company that makes and designs its own chips to sell under its own brand, the two most common models today.

Zhang believes that the CIDM model can help China-based chipmakers better compete with international ones. This Chinese-American entrepreneur is well known in the industry as a pioneer with decades of experience. He worked for 20 years at Texas Instruments in the US. He established the Worldwide Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (WSMS), which was later absorbed by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (TSMC).

The septuagenarian is still in fine fettle and is a passionate entrepreneur.

Leading in motherland

He moved to Taiwan from Shanghai when he was young. He got his bachelor's degree in Taiwan before getting his PhD degree in electrical engineering in the US state of Texas..

In 1977, at the age of 29, he entered Texas Instruments to start his journey in the chip industry. He started as a foreman, working in all fields from installation to production to maintenance. He has been involved in the construction of nine factories in different countries such as the US, Singapore, Japan and Thailand.

The 8-inch microchip fabrication plant he helped set up in Singapore in the early 1990s became the foundation for Zhang's following enterprise in the Chinese mainland, and it provided the bulk of the talent for the future launch of SMIC.

In 1997, Zhang temporarily returned to Taiwan's chip market, but he never gave up on his desire to invest in the Chinese mainland. He believed that the rejuvenation of the nation is a common wish for compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, and that a booming economy in the mainland is the cornerstone of all stability and harmony.

The mainland's semiconductor technology was not at an international standard in its early days, while Taiwan had a solid foundation, thanks to its investment in capital, technology and talent, which began 30 years earlier.

Zhang thought that if the mainland could develop more contract chipmakers, it would be able to catch up with the world's cutting edge and boost its high-tech prosperity.

His plan was to set up a factory on the Chinese mainland not only to produce world-class chips, but also to cultivate talent for future development. He decided to bring his  successful experience of setting up factories around the world to the motherland.

In 2001, SMIC was founded in Shanghai's High-tech Zhangjiang Park located in Pudong New Area. It became the first leading company in the Chinese mainland's semiconductor industry.

Zhang's role in developing the SMIC riled officials in Taiwan as they believed rising production capacity in the mainland market threatened the interests of Taiwanese chipmakers.

In December 2003, TSMC, the world's largest dedicated semiconductor foundry, filed a lawsuit against SMIC in a US local court on the grounds that SMIC had obtained TSMC's trade secrets and infringed on TSMC patents through various improper means.

In March 2005, Taiwan authorities asked Zhang to withdraw his investment from the mainland factory and announced a NT$5 million ($150,000 at 2005 rates) fine because he was believed to have broken Taiwan's strict rules over its enterprises and citizens investing in the mainland's semiconductor industry.

To protest the penalties, in April 2005, Zhang, then the chief executive officer of SMIC, gave up his Taiwanese identification, according to media.

"As a high-tech professional, I think science knows no borders," he said to The Beijing News.

First to eat crabs

Today, together with a large number of partners, he invested 6.8 billion yuan ($0.99 billion) in the CIDM project in its first phase, which will solve a chip shortage problem in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province.

"He is completely devoted to the development of China's semiconductor industry. At every critical moment of industrial development, he always resolutely stepped forward," Mo Dakang, a researcher in China's semiconductor industry, spoke of Zhang.

"I think CIDM is a relatively new concept in the Chinese mainland. I hope my project can be a successful template which can be copied and improved elsewhere," Zhang told the Guangzhou Daily.

"We are never afraid to be the first to eat crabs. Now it is the time to prove it," he said.

Newspaper headline: Father of microchips

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