The Semi-Conductor Laboratory (SCL), a pivotal public sector undertaking (PSU) of the Indian Government, has been a driving force behind India’s journey towards establishing a semiconductor manufacturing industry. Founded as the Semiconductor Complex Limited in Mohali, Punjab, SCL has navigated challenges, showcased technological prowess, and is now set on a path of modernization to further contribute to India’s semiconductor ecosystem.
Inception and Early Years:
In 1976, recognizing the need to develop indigenous semiconductor capabilities, the Cabinet of India approved the formation of the Semiconductor Complex Limited (SCL). Despite initial considerations for Navi Mumbai as its location, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s decision led to the establishment of SCL in Mohali, Punjab, with then Chief Minister Zail Singh contributing 51 acres of land for a nominal cost of one rupee. The company commenced production in 1984 through a technical collaboration with American Microsystems, focusing on 5-micron complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology.
Challenges and Resilience:
However, a setback occurred in 1989 when a fire engulfed SCL’s Mohali facility, halting production until its restart in 1997. The fire raised questions about its cause and impact on India’s semiconductor industry. Despite the adversity, SCL persisted and regained momentum, although the fire’s aftermath had temporarily stunted the growth of India’s semiconductor ambitions.
Rejuvenation and Rebranding:
Under the administrative control of the Department of Space (DoS) since 2005, SCL underwent a transformative phase to reorient itself towards research and development. This transformation included a shift from Semiconductor Complex Limited to the Semi-Conductor Laboratory in 2006. The laboratory’s strategic realignment underscored its commitment to innovation and technology advancement.
SCL has 180 nm production grade technology node. SCL’s impact has been felt across various domains. Its chips have powered significant projects, including India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) and the development of SHAKTI processors at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. A milestone was reached in 2021 when SCL and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay) jointly unveiled India’s first indigenous semiconductor memory technology, marking a significant stride towards self-reliance in semiconductor technology.
Modernization and Future Outlook:
Recognizing the imperative for modernization, the Indian Government embarked on a comprehensive effort to rejuvenate SCL. Plans include seeking a joint venture with a commercial partner to modernize SCL’s existing facility, with an initial investment of $2 billion, subsequently increased from $1.3 billion. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) engaged the Boston Consulting Group to formulate a long-term strategy for SCL’s growth. In a recent development, Minister of State For Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, announced the government’s approval for SCL’s brownfield modernization as a chip manufacturing unit.
The Semi-Conductor Laboratory’s journey from inception to modernization mirrors India’s determination to establish a self-reliant semiconductor manufacturing ecosystem. Overcoming challenges, contributing to critical projects, and embracing innovation, SCL exemplifies the nation’s technological aspirations. With a renewed focus on modernization, SCL is poised to continue its legacy as a cornerstone of India’s semiconductor industry, further accelerating the nation’s technological progress on the global stage.