Apple’s A-series chip supplier to build fab near its U.S. roots

A TSMC plant in Arizona would bring the U.S.-backed Taiwanese company full circle.

From Willy Shih’s “TSMC’s Announcement Of A U.S. Fab Is Big News” posted Friday on Forbes.com:

The Wall Street Journal’s report that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company intends to build a “fab” (semiconductor fabrication facility or factory) in Arizona is big news, although it is really just a toe in the water. TSMC is the world’s largest contract integrated circuit (IC) manufacturer, and it is far and away the technology leader, offering the most advanced manufacturing processes on the planet. As such, it is a critical supplier for companies like Apple, Qualcomm, Nvidia, AMD, and even Intel.

TSMC’s roots go back to the Science and Technology Advisory Group (STAG) established by the Government of Taiwan in 1979. That group included Frederick Seitz, president of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. and a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, Bob Evans, a key figure in the development of IBM IBM’s System/360, and Kenneth G. Mackay, executive vice president of Bell Labs and a pioneer in communications engineering.

The STAG played a key role in pushing Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) to investigate semiconductors. ITRI’s Electronics Research and Service Organization (ERSO) eventually licensed RCA’s CMOS semiconductor process, and sent a team of 35 engineers from Taiwan and five overseas Chinese living in the U.S. to New Jersey in 1976 to learn the technology and transfer it back to Taiwan, where a demonstration production facility was setup. That project was spun off as United MicroelectronicsUMC in 1982, though the demonstration facility continued to churn out 15,000 wafers a month.

In the early 1980s, Carver Mead at the California Institute of Technology began advocating a new approach for dealing with the complexity of very-large-scale integration (VLSI) design, in which the manufacturing of ICs would be separated from the design process. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated projects to develop electronic design tools that enabled the separation of the design process from the manufacturing. This was the birth of the concept of having a separate “foundry” that would contract manufacture chips for multiple customers.

My take: Just learned something new. Sometimes the Forbes contributor network comes through.

See also: Apple COO Jeff Williams: We bet the company on TSMC

6 Comments

  1. Fred Stein said:
    Very interesting. I recently bought a smidge of TSM as a result of following Apple.

    Both companies are the leaders in what they do. Together, they’re even stronger. It gives Apple a price performance edge in all iOS devices for at least five years, maybe much longer. Soon enough, they’ll make Apple-designed 5G chips. And rumors say A-series chips are coming to a MacBook next year. All this adds to long range margin protection.

    Very few analysts mention Apple’s lead in chips, let alone appreciate it. In the digital transformation, chip leadership matters…a lot.

    8
    May 15, 2020
  2. Gregg Thurman said:
    Was there any mention what this Arizona facility would be producing.

    0
    May 15, 2020
  3. Dan Scropos said:
    I’m not sure if it’s been mentioned but this will make 2 things much easier—collaborating on cutting edge technologies and, more importantly, keeping cutting edge technologies and projects a secret. The latter has lagged a lot lately and I’m sure that has bothered Tim Cook and Co.

    0
    May 15, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      This could be A Big Deal, particularly for defense and other critical infrastructure. There’s been concerns for A Long Time (at least 30 years within my memory) about both knowledge transfer (IP theft) and outsourced productions for chips used in weapon systems, aircraft (commercial and military), banking, power grid, etc. The concerns about Huawei are not new, by any stretch.

      2
      May 15, 2020

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