Secretive Giant TSMC’s $100 Billion Plan To Fix The Chip Shortage

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Published on 16 Oct 2021, 16:46
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company makes 24% of all the world's chips, and 92% of the most advanced ones found in today's iPhones, fighter jets and supercomputers. Now TSMC is building America's first 5-nanometer fabrication plant, hoping to reverse a decades-long trend of the U.S. losing chip manufacturing to Asia. CNBC got an exclusive tour of the $12 billion fab that will start production in 2024.

As the world grapples with an ongoing chip shortage, a quiet giant among chipmakers has committed to investing $100 billion over three years to ramp up production.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company may not be a household name, but with a market value of over $550 billion, it’s one of the world’s 10 most valuable companies. Now, it’s leveraging its considerable resources to bring the world’s most advanced chip manufacturing back to U.S. soil.

CNBC got an exclusive tour of the $12 billion fabrication plant, or fab, in Phoenix, Arizona, where TSMC will start making 5-nanometer chips in 2024. The company says it will produce 20,000 wafers each month.

“These are parts that are going to be used in lots of different places: CPUs, GPUs, IPUs, etc. They’ll be used in smartphones,” Rick Cassidy told CNBC. Cassidy is TSMC’s chief strategy officer and the president and CEO of TSMC’s project in Arizona.

TSMC makes key components for everything from cellphones to F-35 fighter jets to NASA’s Perseverance Rover mission to Mars. Earlier this month, it announced plans for a new factory in Japan, where it will produce chips with older technologies, for things like household devices and certain car components. TSMC is also Apple’s exclusive provider of the most advanced chips inside every iPhone currently on the market and most Mac computers.

“But they remain sort of in the background, in terms of end markets. So Apple gets all the accolades when a new phone comes out,” said Joanne Itow, managing director of manufacturing at Semico Research.

“We’re low-key. We let our products speak for themselves. Their success brings all the business that we could ever hope for,” Cassidy said.

The U.S. was the birthplace of advanced silicon, but for decades now, it’s been losing market share to Asia, where 79% of the world’s chip production happened in 2020, according to industry association SEMI. It calculated the U.S. was responsible for 12% of worldwide chip manufacturing last year, down from 37% in 1990.

TSMC alone was responsible for 24% of the world’s semiconductor output in 2020, up from 21% in 2019, according to the company. When it comes to the most advanced chips used in the latest iPhones, supercomputers and automotive AI, TSMC is responsible for 92% of production while Samsung is responsible for the other 8%, according to research group Capital Economics.

“It’s become almost a monopoly at the leading edge, and all of those manufacturing operations, for the most part, are out of Taiwan, Hsinchu. That becomes a matter of national importance for the United States, but not only the United States, but the Western world,” said Christopher Rolland, Susquehanna’s senior semiconductor analyst.

Along with cutting edge 3- and 5-nanometer chips, TSMC also makes larger chips for products such as electric toothbrushes and coffeemakers. Cars often use less-advanced 28- to 40-nanometer chips. All types of chips have been impacted by the shortage. Carmakers including GM and Toyota have paused production at some plants. And Apple is likely to slash its 2021 production targets for the iPhone 13, with orders for some models delayed by more than a month.

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Secretive Giant TSMC’s $100 Billion Plan To Fix The Chip Shortage
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