By Clayton Browne
After 12 years of designing and testing new semiconductor products, including those used in PCs, Intel’s flagship Latin American design center in Guadalajara, Mexico is in the midst of a three-year $177 million expansion.
By the end of the year, more than 800 employees and 200 interns and contractors (including 150 new software and electrical engineers) are expected to work at the new campus of the Intel Guadalajara Design Center (GDC), which includes a science and technology museum and an IT lab focused on small and medium businesses. The campus has achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a third-party verification that all facilities meet strict green building and performance standards.
The GDC has already grown from its original 30 employees to 700. It was created by Intel’s acquisition in 2000 of TDCOM, a small design center firm, and has expanded several times to include sections for design, testing and R&D. It has produced more than twenty inventions for which patents are being sought, over fifty white papers and other technical publications and has been granted seven patents.
Embedded software design and development has always been a core competency at GDC, but the last few years have seen its engineers also design and develop evaluation boards and systems for optical silicon products, such as lasers used scan chips for defects, as well as high-speed software toolsets for testing chips.
GDC’s workforce is also active in validating, or ensuring the proper operation, of the BIOS (basic input-output systems) which are a core component in PCs, and other research. GDC personnel have played key roles in hardware and software validation projects for over 40 Intel chipsets (combinations of chips that work alongside the central microprocessor), an area that Intel is looking to grow with their current expansion.
The original mission of GDC was to “help to transform prototypes into products,” and the ongoing expansion remains focused on that goal. Many of the new employees will be hired through partnerships Intel has with various academic institutions in Guadalajara and throughout Mexico.
With a metropolitan population of nearly four million, Guadalajara has a long history of industrial manufacturing, with the first industrial parks springing up to support the auto industry in the late 1940s. The most recent resurgence of large-scale manufacturing began with infrastructure improvements and government incentives in the late 1980s. By the mid-90s IBM, Flextronics and a number of other multinationals opened or expanded facilities in Guadalajara.
Semiconductor companies like Motorola and IBM began building design centers in Guadalajara in the late 1980s, driven by the largely positive experience of electronics manufacturers as well as better than average infrastructure, a pleasant, safe environment, and most importantly the availability of well-educated skilled people at relatively low cost.
Guadalajara has continued to expand as a hub for high-tech manufacturing and engineering/software development, with 12 original equipment manufacturing, 16 electronics manufacturing services and 24 design centers as of 2011.
Intel acquired TDCOM for the quality of its employees, including the Jesus Palomino who became the General Manager of the new design center. Palomino cites the high quality of local workers as a reason for the center’s rapid growth.
“Around 40% of our employees have post-graduate degrees, 55% have undergraduate engineering degrees and 6 or 7% have technical certificates,” he says, “plus we hire close 100 interns at any given time, many of whom are working on post-graduate degrees.” He also says other companies such as Oracle and Freescale are expanding their design centers in Guadalajara, not to mention global services firms such as Tata Consultancy Services.