By Veniamin Vlasenko
Belarus inherited a powerful industrial branch from the USSR. Minsk’s Integral Production Association was once among the largest in the country — at least, regarding its number of staff. However, its technology significantly lagged behind that of leading global manufacturers. Happily, the branch was ‘saved’ by its strategic significance from the military point of view; its ‘double-purpose’ manufacture had always occupied a significant share of Integral’s production. In recent years, the company has shifted towards competitive ‘civil’ production, through modernisation.
This year, its branch in the city of Pinsk launched production of silicon slices, used to make microcircuits, which boast huge export potential. The workshop is equipped with the most modern equipment, while sensors monitor every step. The ‘intelligent’ equipment was purchased from the USA and Switzerland, able to operate automatically. Its technical re-equipment is part of Integral’s sub-microelectronic branch development, which uses 80 percent of Pinsk’s output of silicon slices. The remainder are exported (almost to all CIS states). However, the sales market is limited in size, since few producers of electronics have survived within post-Soviet territory.
The global presence of European companies on the CIS market is being hampered by its small capacity, since microelectronics is not the strongest field across the CIS. Of course, the situation could change within a few years, though not drastically. In Russia, investments into high technologies are being promoted, with attempts made to create a new ‘Silicon Valley’. Time will show how far these projects meet expectations. However, if the market for silicon slices expands, our Belarusian producer may face some competition, since transnational corporations will join the market, bringing in direct supplies or organising their own facilities.
No doubt, Pinsk’s Kamerton has export potential but, to ensure a niche on foreign markets and regular injections into modernisation, raw material supplies must be secure. Unfortunately, no members of the Customs Union produce silicon of a high enough quality, so this must be imported from the West. Accordingly, Integral plans to set up a company to produce silicon for microelectronics within Brest’s free economic zone, using foreign capital. According to preliminary estimations, the Republic could generate what it needs from its own silica sand. However, deposits need further research and preparation for industrial use, requiring much investment. It is the chance for an investor to gain a long term beneficial return.