TSMC, the world’s largest independent semiconductor foundry, has encountered a problem that struck its factory, known as 18A, which produces chips based on the company’s most advanced technology. The factory, located in the city of Nan-ke in Taiwan, suffered a voltage drop of as much as 90%. It has been speculated that the outage could force TSMC to temporarily halt production of wafers using the most advanced process nodes at 4nm and 5nm.
The lower the process node, the higher the number of transistors that can fit in a chip. And that’s important, because the higher the number of transistors on a chip, the more powerful and energy-efficient that chip is. If the power had stopped completely and hadn’t returned, processing on the wafers could have stopped and an entire day’s worth of wafers had to be thrown away, resulting in losses of millions of dollars.
When producing chips, the process requires that individual complex tasks be completed one after the other without delay. The voltage drop could have made this impossible were it not for the fab’s backup system to take over once the voltage drop was detected. TSMC and the government of Taiwan have been at each other’s throats over the foundry’s demand for uninterrupted power, forcing Taiwan to choose between providing more power to TSMC and other companies or generating more power for consumers.
The advanced chips produced in 18A using the 4nm and 5nm process nodes are shipped to some of the most well-known and important names in mobile technology such as Apple
Qualcomm and Mediatek.
Samsung beat TSMC for the draw last week and started shipping 3nm chips (for cryptocurrency miners). Later this year, TSMC will also start supplying integrated circuits at 3nm and has already started planning its facilities in Hsinchu, Taiwan, which will produce 2nm chipsets from 2026. The facility will use billions of kilowatt hours of electricity in a year, some of which will be generated by wind power.
The reports of the voltage drop were first published by China’s United Daily News