Vietnam microchip pioneers forced to turn sales people

Thanh Nien News

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A scientist in a microchip research laboratory at the Saigon Hi-Tech Park in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre A scientist in a microchip research laboratory at the Saigon Hi-Tech Park in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

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Tran Ngoc Hung, a worker tasked with noting the figures in meters attached to power poles to bill electricity consumers in Ho Chi Minh City, no longer has to go from pole to pole.
“We just have to sit at a screen and collect the figures.”
This is thanks to the installation of more than 4,000 mobile data collection devices using microchips made by the Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City’s Integrated Circuit Design Research and Education Center (ICDREC), Hung told Tuoi Tre newspaper.
They are among the first chip-based devices made in Vietnam, which have given local scientists joy but also the headache of finding a market for them.
Set for IC boom
Vietnamese integrated circuits have been successfully installed in container locks, black boxes, galvanometers, sensors to measure roads and bridges’ vibration, and devices for observing and positioning radioactive sources, Tuoi Tre reported.
They use an MEMS-based pressure sensor (MEMS for Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems), which was the first IC product that Saigon Hi-Tech Park and ICDREC released recently after more than two and a half years of research.
The research was part of a program expected to last until 2020, which will also lead to the setting up of the country’s first IC factory at a cost of around US$250 million in HCMC.
Ngo Duc Hoang, director of ICDREC, said this kind of sensor is widely applied in manufacturing and healthcare globally.
“They are used in blood pressure monitors, for example, and in devices to measure the water level in washing machines, water tanks, and dish washers.”
Global Technical Services, an Egyptian private company which has a plant at the Saigon Hi-Tech Park, has signed a deal with ICDREC to use its chips to make devices to measure and store water level information.
Le Hoai Son, sales director of Saigon Track which has been cooperating with ICDREC since March 2012 to promote its first chips, said his company has mass produced a car black box branded X200 and motorbike black box XM100.
“The products have been well received on the market,” Son told Tuoi Tre.
He said 10,000 car black boxes have been distributed in the local market and 2,000 more are made every month.
Vietnamese black boxes are selling like hot cakes as they are durable and come with good warranty services, he said.
“They have won the market from Chinese products.”
Not smooth sailing
Son said Vietnamese products can have a good market.
“What we need is for scientists and the investors to find each other.”
Truong Huu Ly, head of the pressure sensor production team at the Saigon Hi-Tech Park, said they have been struggling to find investors.
They want to use the chips to measure the pressure in oil and gas tanks and to measure the city’s water levels to help with flood prevention, he said.
“But it’s been very difficult to find investors for such products.”
Hoang of ICDREC said the institute has been producing many sample products using local chips.
But investors have no intention to produce them in mass, saying they would not be able to compete with similar products from China, for instance galvanometers.
Hoang told Tuoi Tre that scientists are having to also undertake the task of finding a market because “it’s hurtful to watch products that cost much money and effort being forgotten in the lab.”

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