Technology consumers: How would you rate Sri Lankan’s familiarity with world technological trends? We were first in the South Asian region to introduce 3G, 3.5G and then 4G. Mobile phone subscription exceeds the country population. The majority is quite familiar with mobile reloads and sending SMSs. Latest models of all brands of laptops, tablets, Apple [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Can Sri Lanka contribute to the global electronics industry in design and manufacturing segments?


Technology consumers: How would you rate Sri Lankan’s familiarity with world technological trends? We were first in the South Asian region to introduce 3G, 3.5G and then 4G. Mobile phone subscription exceeds the country population. The majority is quite familiar with mobile reloads and sending SMSs. Latest models of all brands of laptops, tablets, Apple iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy can be purchased here. How about other consumer electronics items? LED TVs and all types of electronics can be easily found in many showrooms in urban centres in Sri Lanka. We are good consumers of technology (especially electronics). Our giant neighbour India is no different – they are projected to have a US$ 400 billon import bill for electronics in 2020, more than their oil import bill. Let’s take a look at the annual revenue in billions of dollars (for 2014) of well-known global electronics companies to get a better perspective of the potential for electronics product development, Samsung ($189 billion) Apple ($182), Sony ($72), Panasonic ($64) and Toshiba ($54).

Can we also be contributors to technological development?

For a change, can we contribute to the global electronics industry from a design and production point of view rather just being a consumer? Do we have the potential to do this? We, at University of Moratuwa, firmly believe so.

At present, Sri Lanka is just a dot in the global electronics industry. That dot is primarily due to member companies of Sri Lanka Electronic Manufacturing Association (SLEMEA) and some electronic design houses.

Can electronics be a top contributor to the export revenue of Sri Lanka? At present both the electrical and electronics sector contribute a combined $400 million annually to export revenue while the software sector is $ 800 million. For comparison, India exports $8 billion and $84 billion worth of electronics and software products and services, respectively.

There are two ways of contributing to the global electronics industry:

Electronics-based product and services development for the industry and consumer segments; and electronics design services.

Do we have the potential?

Let’s look at our human resource base in electronics. The three main engineering faculties (Moratuwa, Peradeniya and Ruhuna) produce approximately 275 graduates every year who could be considered electronics engineers. In the future, this number will go up due to new state engineering faculties (such as Jaffna and South Eastern) and graduates from private universities (for comparison about 250,000 fresh graduates enters the job market in India in the related fields). These graduates are quickly absorbed into the industry by telecommunication and software companies, while a few electronics design companies also offer limited positions. Given the lower number of graduates in the field, it is essential that we, as a country, develop a strategy to make the best use of them for national development. E.g. electronics design services require more people but generate less revenue per person.

Lack of a vibrant

Dr. Ajith Pasqual

electronics industry

This is a question that needs a lot of analysis but suffice it to say there is not much drive from the existing companies to undertake electronics-based product development. A major reason for this is the risk-averse nature of the current industry as product development is not an easy task. Getting a product ready for commercial acceptance is a time consuming and costly process. How can we promote product development in this context? There is a wrong perception among engineers that product development always refers to a completely novel product. That is not necessarily the case. There are countless opportunities to enhance existing products.

(a) Government as
the critical enabler

With the hope of establishing a strong electronics industry in Sri Lanka, the University of Moratuwa Department of Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering submitted a proposal to the government for the 2014 national budget requesting an allotment for the setting up of a Facilitation Centre for Advanced Electronics Design (FCAED) to specifically support start-ups in electronics and also carry out extensive capacity building related to state-of-the-art-electronics design tools. The government positively responded to this proposal, making it as a medium term initiative by providing a Rs. 160 million grant to set up the centre, which is currently ongoing.

The following services will be provided to start-up companies through the
FCAED: Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools for IC (Chip) design and PCB design; High-end FPGA development boards including ASIC prototyping boards; 3D Printing services for product enclosures; Work space for engineers (only limited number of seats); Dedicated hosting space for their designs with full protection; and training on advanced EDA tools Unfortunately, the centre is not able to provide the above services to any individuals who do not belong to any registered company. However, our department is always committed to supporting anyone in refining their product ideas and providing the necessary technology backing.

(b) Start-up company activities

The last two to three years have seen a resurgence of the electronics industry in Sri Lanka. Prior to 2012, only five companies were known to be engaged in Electronics Designs. However, as of today, this number has risen to 12, with some of the companies already offering opportunities for electronics graduates.

Below is a partial list of products developed by these companies (some of them are commercially proven prototypes and some ready for manufacturing):
- Medical grade Pulse Oxymeter for hospitals; Series of high quality products developed for Sri Lanka Railways such as Signal Lights, Warning Bells, Intelligent Battery Chargers and Level Crossing Controllers; High resolution tea colour sorter; Ultrasonic Flow/BTU meter; Wearable activity rracker (similar to Fitbit); and 4K resolution (3840×2160) at 30fps H.265/HEVC Video Decoder on a single FPGA. HEVC, or High Efficiency Video Coding, is the latest video standard, which will succeed H.264/MPEG4. This is the world’s first known 4K at 30fps HEVC decoder implementation on FPGA.

Also, Development Boards for Robotics, and Mobile Weather Stations.

These products are not only ready for the domestic market but also for the global market as well. In addition to the above list, there are two important local product developments to note: The Vega Electric Super Car Project at TRACE Expert City (a range of Electric Vehicle Chargers have already been developed) and the recently-introduced Smart Energy Meter.

Need for a mindset change and positive government policies

Mindset change is mandatory, for engineers, users and government policy makers. Availability of a domestic market is one essential element that can speed up product development as the engineers get confidence only when the final user provides positive feedback. Over the last few decades, Sri Lanka has unfortunately become a buying and selling country with the majority focusing on earning a quick profit. Sadly, government policies have contributed immensely to this situation, which has deteriorated to such an extent that for virtually every need we have become dependent on foreign made goods with a suspicious eye always cast on locally developed products.

Strong government policies for local product development (and not just verbal endorsements) and most importantly facilitating a fair competition between local and foreign products is the way towards turning Sri Lanka into a country recognised for electronic product development.
About the writer:
Dr. Ajith Pasqual is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering. He can be contacted via

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