TSMC will make semiconductors on an advanced 4nm production process when it opens its new chip factory in Arizona in 2024, it has been reported. The Taiwanese company had previously planned a 5nm production line, but has had a change of heart at the behest of Apple and US chip designers AMD and Nvidia, all of which are keen to take advantage of the new facility.
The new chip factory, or fab, will cost $12bn and is part of TSMC’s global expansion plan.
TSMC Arizona: why the switch to 4nm?
Previous public statements from TSMC had said the plant would initially produce 5nm, but according to a report from Bloomberg, which cites sources familiar with the company’s plans, this has now been upgraded to 4nm, a process which allows the company to make smaller chips and deliver greater processing power and efficiency.
The move is likely to be announced on Tuesday, the report says, when US president Joe Biden and commerce secretary Gina Raimondo visit the site for a ceremony.
TSMC has apparently been under pressure from its US customers to deliver more advanced chips from the plant. Apple in particular is looking to source more components for the iPhone and its MacBook computers from the US after experiencing problems at its largest iPhone factory in China, which is operated by Foxconn. There supply chain problems and worker unrest caused by China’s harsh Covid-19 restrictions have led to shipments of devices being delayed.
As reported by Tech Monitor, Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly said Apple has “already made a decision to be buying out of a plant in Arizona” in a recent internal meeting, suggesting a deal has been struck with TSMC to take capacity at the site.
AMD and Nvidia meanwhile are dealing with US sanctions on Beijing which have left them unable to do business with many Chinese partners. Both are fabless chip companies, meaning they design their own devices but do not have production facilities, instead relying on third parties such as TSMC.
The high level of interest from customers could see TSMC ramp up production from the originally planned 20,000 wafers a month, the Bloomberg report says.
Will TSMC’s US venture succeed?
TSMC is investing heavily in new factories outside Taiwan, and has been in talks with European countries about potentially opening a new facility on the continent. In the US, the 4nm plant is unlikely to be the end of its Arizona expansion, with company founder Morris Chang telling reporters last month that a 3nm production facility was likely to come online in future. TSMC will start delivering 3nm chips made in Taiwan to customers next year.
Whether the company will be able to successfully translate its operating model to other parts of the world is unclear, analysts say. TSMC employees in the US have already taken to review site Glassdoor to complain about the long hours demanded by their employer. Staff at TSMC’s Taiwan plants regularly work 12-hour days, it has been reported.
Speaking to Tech Monitor earlier this year, Dan Hutcheson, vice chair of semiconductor industry analyst house TechInsights, said: “They’ve never successfully run manufacturing outside Taiwan. There have been marginal gains but they have never seeded anything successful. So it’s a huge risk because they rely on a very tightly coupled Taiwanese culture which is a mixture of Chinese and American.”