TSMC calls self-sufficiency goals of US and Europe unrealistic

Posted on Thursday, April 01 2021 @ 10:50 CEST by Thomas De Maesschalck
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Earlier today, I wrote about TSMC's plan to invest $100 billion in chip production capacity over the next three years. It's a massive figure and I'm sure US and European politicians are hoping that some of this expenditure will result in the construction of new semiconductor foundries in the West.

TSMC chairman calls US and European goals unrealistic

Both the US and Europe want to become more self-sufficient in terms of semiconductors -- as the current situation is seen as a big geopolitical risk. Of course, the US and the EU will not set up their own production capacity, instead, they hope to lure big fish like TSMC, Samsung, or Intel.

But TSMC chairman Mark Liu told Bloomberg that these self-sufficiency goals are economically unrealistic. Liu added that the coronavirus pandemic would have had the same impact on production regardless of where operations are located.

TSMC blames US-China trade war for chip shortages

The TSMC chairman claims that if each country starts developing a domestic semiconductor industry, this would result in a lot of "non-profitable" production capacity. Interestingly, TSMC claims semiconductor manufacturing capacity is larger than the actual demand. Liu explains the tensions between US and China have resulted in a lot of double booking:
Speaking to reporters at an industry event in Hsinchu in his role as chairman of the Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association, Liu said uncertainty around the U.S.-China relationship led to a supply chain shift and pushed some companies to double up on orders to secure inventory. Others rushed to fill the market gap left by Huawei Technologies Co. after sanctions crippled its consumer business.

“Uncertainties led to double booking, but actual capacity is larger than demand,” Liu said. How quickly those concerns are resolved “really depends on future U.S.-China negotiations.”
Basically, the implication here for the US and Europe seems to be that sufficiently large incentives will be required if politicians really want to reduce semiconductor reliance on China and Taiwan.

Better EUV yields ahead thanks to new pellicles

On a related note, AnandTech writes the EUV lithography production chain is improving. After a decade or two of development, semiconductor foundries started adopting ASML's EUV technology in 2019. EUV is the next big step for semiconductor production -- it resolves many of the issues that are now encountered with traditional immersion lithography.

Over the past couple of years, ASML has been steadily improving its Twinscan NXE EUV lithography tools, resulting in better uptime, higher yields, and more production output. Things are about to get better again as EUV pellicles are now ready for use in volume production. When Samsung and TSMC starting adopting EUV, these pellicles weren't available yet so the companies had to work around this problem. They came up with a way to use EUV scanners without protective films -- which is not ideal of course.

As AnandTech points out, with EUV pellicles from ASML being available now, foundries will gradually be able to improve yields and use the technology for larger chips.
TSMC and Samsung Foundry have invented ways to use EUV lithography tools without pellicles on multi-die photomasks for smaller chips, but such methods are risky as any particle adder can become a yield killing defect. Furthermore, such methods are risky for bigger chips and single-die photomasks, so pellicles are critical for enabling large dies to be made with EUV tools. That said, regardless of the photomask size, pellicles are needed to improve EUV yields and reduce risks across the board.

About the Author

Thomas De Maesschalck

Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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