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Fab in India: India is trying to create an indigenous chip-making industry (economist.com)
123 points by yarapavan 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

Context: The designs are based on RISC-V ISA (https://riscv.org). When India looks east, it sees Huawei, a Chinese tech giant, being cut off from American-made components as a result of the trade war. To the west, it sees its most talented engineers working in Silicon Valley. By pouring millions of dollars into Indian-made semiconductors, India’s government hopes to solve both problems at once.

The open source academic project mentioned in the article is 'Project Shakti' at IIT Madras.

Link: https://shakti.org.in/

Best of luck to India. I sincerely hope that RISC-V will grant them the ability to produce commodity grade (even if low end) chips that can be utilized with open source software system. The first such use may well be industrial systems where OS and spec are not the major concern.

I'm very excited about India's ambitions. It would not only be meaningful for India, but for many people around the world. We are lacking open chips, and project Shakti is on a trajectory to solve a part of that.

I wonder when GCC learns to use the source code of the hardware along with the source code of the software to optimize the binary with full knowledge of the system.

> I wonder when GCC learns to use the source code of the hardware along with the source code of the software to optimize the binary with full knowledge of the system.

Wouldn’t this just mean not having to rely as much on Agner Fog?

GCC uses intrinsic functions when available during compilation. It does optimize for a specific architecture. Is there something beyond this you are referring to?

We will never have competitive chips that are open down to the transistor and process level.

Down to the RTL, sure. But a truly open competitive chip, never ever.

You might get one on some ancient process from 20 years ago, which will be handily outclassed in every single metric except openness, which people make noise about but don't actually pay for (so no business case).

A ~20 year old process... that'd be 250nm or 180nm, which is Just Fine for many microcontrollers, if not the new 600mhz-1ghz Cortex M7's...

If the 180nm design is good enough, and migrated it to a new process, you'd get more chips per wafer.

Hence never competitive. "It's open!" doesn't make a business decide to buy a million and put them in a product - cost, features, availability, support do.

Nobody cares about "open silicon" - it's only spouted by people who don't understand actual electronics, or if they do, they certainly don't understand the economics.

It will never happen. If it did, it wouldn't be useful. It makes zero sense.

From a corporate perspective, I think you're absolutely right, this kind of thing will never be profitable.

From a state perspective, being reliant on other countries for your electronic may seem like such a threat to your ability to remain sovereign that it's worth developing your own, even if you are generations behind the latest and greatest.

True! But do you think they'd open up that process?

Hell no!

I hope they will be more involved in the open-source electronic design software than other countries. Software like LibreCAD[1] and FreeCAD[2], Yosys[3] and Symbiflow[4], Chisel/FIRRTL[5], OpenROAD initiative[6], Degate[7], and many others.

[1] https://librecad.org/

[2] https://www.freecadweb.org/

[3] http://www.clifford.at/yosys/

[4] https://symbiflow.github.io/

[5] https://www.chisel-lang.org/

[6] https://theopenroadproject.org/

[7] https://github.com/nitram2342/degate

I really would like an alternative to Shenzhen for cheap manufacturing. Does anyone here have experience with factories located elsewhere?

I regularly quote PCBAs in different countries. If you are looking for any place as cheap as China, I can't say that such a place exists. The only way that the math works out is by building the product yourself with a cheap SMT line. Using a domestic CM is a non-starter for a low-margin consumer product.

That's for ideological reasons that I am looking for an alternative. I am just wondering what would be the additional cost. Is that more than 2x the cost?

I've found the domestic premium too be anywhere from 3X to 10X. It really depends on how much is being done. We sometimes build antennas, which are single layer PCBs. The cost-delta at production volumes is about 3X. On a circuit board assembly I've paid 15x more to build in the US, where the turnaround time was significantly slower and production yield was worse. This is CM-specific, of course.

Have experience in Vietnam. Some clients been asking for manufacturing there, but often get surprised that it will both be harder and cost the more than in China. Still some persist, and do that.

You have to effectively import everything from China, and just do final assembly there. I see close to no point doing that when local inputs cannot reach even 10% of the value.

Do you know if there is any decent plastic molding industry in Vietnam? I have something that needs off the shelf electronics (may buy them in China) but will have to meet manufacturers in person for the final assembly and plastic casing, which on a small series is probably going to be a sizeable portion of the cost (and seriously, that's more about ideology than cost anyway).

Even ordinary quality level plastics parts can often be easier to import from China there, moreover now. Even things like plastic bathtubs is a challenge at the moment. Not many options for small businesses there other than to work with garage factories, with all resulting complications.

I will be glad to get in touch with you if you really need to make it there, and you are really ready to pay. For a project under $100k you will likely pay a fee from 10% to 20%. Disclaimer, this is not a binding commercial offer

For plastic mold injection it's less about the infrastructure and more about how competent and reliable the supplier is. Circuit board assembly requires parts to be sourced. With plastics it's possible to be more logistically self-sufficient. You should be able to find what you need in Vietnam, but unfortunately I can't point to any specific sources.

Just confirming your 10% figure. Across a dozen or so products I've been involved with, the actual labor/SMT assembly costs have been about 10% of the total BOM (bill of materials). Very roughly the cost per component-placement is about 1-cent (USD). My quoted labor rates are about $7/hour, though I see $15/hour at a lot of other factories (and warehouses).

What did make RISC-V a game changer? Why did not any open source chip enjoy such a success before?


> with nets being installed due to people jumping out of windows

I see a lot of flak given to Foxconn (maybe because of them being Chinese). What is your opinion on the recent Facebook suicide? Also the articles on mental damage moderating articles in Facebook etc.


This is ridiculous. If Malaysia is on the verge of surpassing Portugal in per capita GDP why can’t India? They’re each “deeply colonial states”, neither of them having any real connection to pre-British states except as constituent units. More generally India has already done plenty to help its citizens. Even before the end of the License Raj, when the wannabe Fabians we’re running India you had massive improvements in health and education. Since the worst of the economic mismanagement was removed the Indian economy and the general populace's living standards have just shot up and continue to do so.

Your statement on Malaysia and Portugal GDP per capita surprised me. So I did some fact checking. According to Wiki Malaysia’s 2018 GDP per capita is usd 10,941. Portugal is 23,176. [1]

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Portugal


If you look at purchasing power parity (PPP), the numbers are closer together: $30,859 (Malaysia) and $32,023 (Portugal).

How many MacBook Pros do you get though. If anything, what the software developers might want is likely more expensive in Malaysia than Portugal. Likewise for India.

Then go define your software developer purchasing power parity index.

Such economic measures are complex, and if you want to see a single number for a country, that number should be representative for everything and everyone

Even in Malaysia expenses for tools such as computers and software is small compared to wages for skilled professionals.

China did it, Korea did it, all the Asian tigers did it, (The USA too, long ago) and via the same way: domestic government investment and programs to stimulate manufacturing.

There is little precedence of such a deeply colonial state ever being able to help its subjects in a meaningful way

America was a British colony, too, once upon a time.

US, Canada, Australia are/were rather different sorts of colonies from India or Malaysia.

Please, read more about the project. IITs aren't "colonial institutions".

You vastly underestimate the size and diversity of India. Their middle class is bigger than that of the USA or I think even that of the entire EU.

The can have a low rate on pretty much every statistic, while still having a higher total amount of it than us, simply due to.the sheer size of people. They could have an entire state, more modern, rich and with more people than Germany, while keeping their current statistics. No problem.

Also: Are you Indian (I think not), or what is your basis for the ”rootless“ statement. To us Germans, Americans appear rootless. But we are not competent to judge that!

Finally, things like this right here ARE how you get Indians out of poverty and illiteracy! Even if just via the resulting businesses lobbying for more education.

He’s a closet Hindu nationalist

Please don't take HN threads further into nationalistic flamewar.

> Their middle class is bigger than that of the USA or I think even that of the entire EU.

According to Wikipedia: "Indian middle class is 3% or 40 million of Indian population."

That's not a whole lot of people and definitely not comparable to North America or Europe.


The same article has other stat that says anywhere between 30-300 million are considered middle class.

Is there a consensus among economists on what the real number is ?

My wife’s most cited and quoted paper is on correctly defining the Indian middle class. Happy to share the link if there’s interest.

I’m interested, please post the link to the paper.

Yes, I’m interested too.

It's obviously not an exact science, since "middle class" has as much to do with how people define their own social status as it has to do with their actual income. But those measures counting hundreds of millions of Indians as middle class are doing that by including people surviving on a few dollars a day. Maybe in an Indian context where poverty is widespread this is considered middle class, but it's quite misleading to present that as middle class to a Western audience.

I'm willing to bet that the disposable income of the US/EU middle classes exceeds that of the Indian one at least 10:1, for now.

It's about the same size as France, who matches India in real gdp

That is not the claim that was being made though. The one I replied to said India's middle class was bigger than the American and European ones. Being comparable to country with 5% of India's population basically just underlines the fact that India's middle class is tiny.

Yup, that Delhi-Lucknow Ganga-Jamni tehzeeb is deeply rootless. I’m sure Mamta didi et al and the by now Bengali minority in Kolkata are happy you’re dubbing them as deeply rootless.

Please don't take HN threads further into nationalistic flamewar.

The question is: What will they do after, when Trump is gone, and his policiey on Chinese imports anf foreign workers are gone with him?

I hope they hurry. Now’s the time!

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