TSMC on Thursday disclosed that it will have to delay mass production at its Fab 21 in Arizona to 2025, as a lack of suitably skilled workers is slowing down the installation of cleanroom tools. The company also confirmed that it is sending in hundreds of people familiar with its fabs from Taiwan to Arizona to assist the installation.

"We are encountering certain challenges, as there is an insufficient amount of skilled workers with the specialized expertise required for equipment installation in a semiconductor-grade facility," said Mark Liu, chairman of TSMC, during the company's earnings call with financial analysts and investors. "While we are working on to improve the situation, including sending experienced technicians from Taiwan to train local skill workers for a short period of time, we expect the production schedule of N4 process technology to be pushed out to 2025."

Construction of TSMC's Fab 21 phase 1 kicked off in April 2021, and reached completion a little behind schedule by the middle of 2022. In December of 2022, TSMC started moving equipment in. Normally, equipping a fab's cleanroom requires around a year, which is why TSMC anticipated that the chip manufacturing plant would be operational by early 2024. Apparently, installation of production tools into Fab 21 encountered several setbacks as local workers were unfamiliar with TSMC's requirements. 

As it turns out, these setbacks were so severe that TSMC now expects to need an extra year to start mass production at the fab, moving the start date from early 2024 to 2025. Which, at what's now 18+ months out, TSMC isn't even bothering to provide guidance about when in 2025 it expects its Fab 21 phase 1 to start mass production – only that it will happen at some point in the year.

The impact of TSMC's Fab 21 launch delay on its U.S. customers is yet to be determined. The megafab-class facility is not nearly as large as TSMC's flagship gigafabs in Taiwan, so the impact in terms of wafer starts is not as significant as if one of the larger fabs was delayed. The most recent estimate for Fab 21 was that it would hit 20K wafer starts per month, around one-fifth the capacity of a gigafab. So the capacity loss, while important, is not critical to TSMC's overall production quotas. Though with TSMC expecting to be at full capacity in 2024, there may not be much capacity left to pick up the slack.

Likely to be the bigger concern is that Fab 21 was being built (and subsidized) in large part to allow TSMC to produce sensitive, US-based chip designs within the US. While non-sensitive chips can be allocated to other fabs in Taiwan (capacity permitting), that's not going to be a suitable alternative for chips that need to be built within the US. A one-year delay on Fab 21 is likely to throw a wrench into those plans, but it will be up to TSMC's buyers (and their government clients) on whether to accept the delay or look at alternatives.

Finally, getting back to the subject of skilled workers, late last month TSMC confirmed to Nikkei that it was in talks with the U.S. government to provide non-immigrant visas to its Taiwanese specialists to the U.S., to help at "a critical phase, handling all of the most advanced and dedicated equipment in a sophisticated facility." According to the Nikkei report, a 500-man team of technicians was dispatched from Taiwan, arriving with hands-on expertise in a diverse range of fields. This expertise includes the installation of wafer fab tools and their synchronized operation, and, among other things, construction of fab mechanical and electrical systems.

Sources: TSMCNikkei


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  • Samus - Saturday, July 22, 2023 - link

    People wrote off AMD too, now look. Don't underestimate Intel, they have the best talent in the world. Stock prices don't mean shit; if we were basing company success on valuation, Apple would be running the world, yet they don't actually manufacture a single thing and, frankly, would be out of business if TSMC disappeared as they make almost every bit of advanced silicon in every Apple product. That's a bad position for a company to be in.

    Meanwhile, Intel isn't dependent on ANYBODY. They research, design and manufacture on 4 continents, 30 countries, in a variety of sectors and markets from military to consumer. Outside of Taiwan, TSMC has a single FAB in Washington (WaferTech) which is a complete failure, two research centers with a handful of employees in Texas and Cali, and a FAB in China that would seize the instant China invades Taiwan.
  • Pneumothorax - Friday, July 21, 2023 - link

    Intel has been an also ran since Skylake. I'll consider them top tier when they can at least match or exceed TSMC's tech. They can't even match TSMC's 4 year old 5nm process.
  • goatfajitas - Sunday, July 23, 2023 - link

    TSMC started volume prodution of its "5nm" process in Q2 of 2020, thats 3 years ago... And "5nm" is in quotes because its not that simple and calling it that is part marketing. The same way Intel has renamed thier process nodes, 10nm is now "Intel 7" 7nm is now "Intel 4" to match what competitors call it. Pure marketing. In the end what matters is product specs, power per watt, overall performance etc.

    Anyhow, Intel stumbled BAD on 14nm, but they arent far behind at all.
  • nandnandnand - Friday, July 21, 2023 - link

    The evidence shows that American piggu swine are too stupid to run a world-leading fab.
  • Threska - Saturday, July 22, 2023 - link

    Grass is always greener, except under our own feet.
  • The_Assimilator - Thursday, July 20, 2023 - link

    No, it's an excuse for the fact that Americans smart enough to be working in semiconductors are also smart enough to not allow themselves to be exploited by Taiwanese labour practices.
  • heffeque - Thursday, July 20, 2023 - link

    I'm not sure that Taiwanese labor practices are that much worse than American labor practices (if it is even the case). Heck, some states are even legalizing child labor, since illegal immigrants aren't as easy "use" nowadays. Haven't read of any kind of child labor in Taiwan.
  • airdrifting - Thursday, July 20, 2023 - link

    "The_Assimilator" probably still lives in the 70s when he thinks labor practices. Now look around you, it's okay jobs "do not pay a living wage", it's okay to hire child labor, it's okay for people work two jobs and still can't afford a roof, but when it comes to Taiwanese labor practice, you better make sure everyone gets CEO wage.
  • knightspawn1138 - Thursday, July 20, 2023 - link

    I'm just picturing the movie classic Gung Ho, where the un-enthusiastic American workers get berated by the Japanese engineers and managers for not having high enough standards for their work (at the beginning of the movie, anyway). Where's Hunt Stevenson when you need him?
  • Papaspud - Thursday, July 20, 2023 - link

    Maybe because demand is dropping?

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