[Source: By Rupa Damodaran, Business Times] – DR Robert P. Breault, an expert on the science of optics or light, is convinced of Malaysia’s potential in the sophisticated high-end technology.
However, the country must prepare its workforce and address what is lacking at learning institutions. And this must be done fast as other countries around the world are also aiming at the same economic pie.
Malaysia wants to focus on light-emitting diodes (LED) and solar photovoltaic, the technology of changing solar energy into electricity, as two potential key industries in Malaysia.
LED lights are 10 times more efficient that the normal incandescent light. Both LED and solar energy are likely to be lucrative markets as the world turns to ways to save energy and to increase the use of cleaner energy.
Breault is chairman of Breault Research Organisation Inc, an international optical engineering firm. He was in Malaysia for a week at the invitation of the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (Mida) to help Malaysians build competitiveness in photonics, LED and solar clusters.
Penang could turn out to be an LED Valley for Malaysia, he said, in the same mould as what Silicon Valley has done for the US IT industry.
“Malaysia is gaining prominence as a centre of gravity for LEDs, especially in Penang which has the attributes of an LED Valley.”
There are plans to turn Kulim High Tech Park into a hub for solar panels besides its current speciality in wafer fabrication.
First Solar Inc is the first US solar module maker to invest in the park with an initial investment of RM2.2 billion. Two other American multinationals may also invest in Kedah.
Malaysia also has a significant number of highly educated people, who are vastly under utilised, he said.
“They are proven high-tech researchers who can start new companies. In Penang they are doing this in the geophysics technology although it does not seem to feature on Mida’s radar screen.
“My feeling is that Malaysia and the industry have taken a modest pace when these programmes could be executed much faster. The government should get serious about education and work with the industry to tailor specific programmes to fill their engineering and technician level needs.”
Breault has suggested that Mida sponsors a multi-technology award ceremony at local universities like Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Malaya, highlighting their successful spin-offs in any technological field.
“What Malaysia does not have is state-of-the-art LED/semiconductor equipment in the universities. This will be worth investing in. Give tax write-offs for companies that give near state-of-the art equipment to universities.”
Breault, who is also chairman of the Arizona Optics Industry Association, is keen to link the Malaysian optics industry to the US.
“Malaysia is building a solar manufacturing industry while the Arizona governor Janet Napolitano wants to make Arizona the solar state in the US.”
Lighting in the US represents 27 per cent of the US consumption of energy.
Shared interests in nanotechnology and bioscience between Arizona and Malaysia will also enable Malaysia to create jobs through optics clusters.
A University of Arizona study showed that the total number of employees in the Arizona optics and nanotechnology clusters grew from 2,555 employees in 1996 to 25,635 employees in 2006.
Breault, who recently joined the Emerging Technology and Research Advisory Committee under the US Dept of Commerce, is also helping to build clusters in many countries including Mexico, South Korea and Africa.
In South Korea, there are now close to 300 small optics companies in the cluster which is making about US$1 billion (RM3.59 billion).