A single crystal needed to make telephone set

The examples of China, South Korea, Japan, Finland and other countries prove that the creation of a ‘smart’ economy — boasting a high share of high-tech science intensive products — yields no fewer dividends than trade in energy sources. In five years’ time, Belarus is to increase its exports of innovative products over 2.5-fold, to reach $8bn

By Konstantin Yevgeniev

The country’s unique microelectronic facility — Integral Production Association — boasts a sterile workshop: even more so than operating rooms. On entering, special clothes must be worn, with another change required on entering the production workshop. If a single particle of dust falls on a memory crystal (the major component of submicron production) it must be thrown away. The production of microcircuits of 0.35 microns is a lengthy process, including over a thousand operations. It takes almost two months to produce one such product, which is ten times thinner than a human hair and visible only through a powerful electronic microscope. Meanwhile, a modern telephone set can be made using just one crystal.

In Soviet times, Integral was the flagship of the microelectronic branch, supplying microcircuits to almost every USSR region. However, economic hardships affected the plant and the number of orders gradually decreased, causing accumulated debt. However, on realising the strategic importance of the facility, the state allocated financial aid. The recovery period was long and hard.

Today, the plant manufactures microcircuits and complicated electronic equipment and is becoming an interesting object for investors. Along with growing exports, its financial figures are improving. “Last year, the plant’s net profit exceeded $6m, in equivalent. This year, we plan to raise our positive foreign trade balance to $55m,” notes Integral’s General Director, Vitaly Solodukha. “By 2015, this figure should reach $100m.”

The company’s strategy for the near future is to strengthen its position on existing segments of the global market, while conquering new sectors — in particular, within the science intensive branches of space technologies and defence. All the necessary prerequisites are there, with the plant conducting scientific studies and developments.

The chief engineer at Belmicrosystems Scientific-Technical Centre, Vladimir Tsymbal, shows us the ‘electronic eye’ of a space satellite for remote Earth sensing. Integral has produced electronic components for this optic device, which makes it possible to record images with maximum accuracy and without distortion.

The plant has already realised a range of investment submicron projects dealing with microcircuit making, to increase output and sales of new highly profitable and competitive products. Integral is also planning to master and develop over 30 varieties of integral microcircuits, under the Union State Russian-Belarusian Basis programme. Over 50 companies in Russia’s military-industrial complex have confirmed their needs.

Not long ago, the Council of Ministers’ Presidium held its session at Integral’s premises. The Government’s interference is inspired by the company’s difficulties over floating assets. “We aren’t asking the state for additional funds,” notes Mr. Solodukha. “We’ve formed a serious portfolio of orders and our products enjoy demand in non-CIS states. The enterprise feels confident and has begun making money.” However, the debts accumulated in previous years are hampering progress, so Integral has asked the Government to look at restructuring these debts, to be paid in instalments. Corresponding proposals are now being studied.

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