TSMC Moving Toward 5nm & 3nm Process with $15.7B Fab

By Published December 13, 2016 at 10:00 am

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) has set sights on building a new $15.7 billion facility geared towards the 5 and 3 nanometer chip processes, eyes set for future process nodes. TSMC is the world’s biggest chip maker by revenue, accounting for 55% of the market share. TSMC’s deep-pocketed clients include Qualcomm, nVidia, and Apple, whose iPhone 7 launch was especially pivotal in the record quarter to quarter profits TSMC has been reporting, as TSMC produces the A10 processor for the iPhone 7.

Taiwan Semiconductor houses its base of operations in Northern Taiwan, where several of their fabs are located. This is in addition to leading-edge fabs in Southern Taiwan and Central Taiwan, not to mention manufacturing bases in China.

TSMC is increasing capacity in China with plans for construction of another 300mm wafer/16nm FinFET node process fab. There is also WaferTech, TSMC’s wholly owned subsidiary situated in the United States.

TSMC’s semiconductor foundry is responsible for constructing such chips as Apple’s A8 and A10 processors, Qualcomm’s 800 and 810 Snapdragon processors, and nVidia’s most recent Pascal 16nm FinFET GPUs. Most recently, however, Samsung has won the contract on building the newer Snapdragon chips on the 10nm process node, the first being Snapdragon 835. Contrarywise, the immense success of the iPhone 7 series and the demise of Samsung’s Note 7 have been a tremendous boon for TSMC.

Competition in the microchip industry is fierce, with the demand for smaller and more powerful chips to power smaller, sleeker devices while increasing their speed. Such is why the process node shrinks are so promising and highly sought. With each die shrink comes the avowed power efficiency improvements and higher clock speeds, coupled with tinier silicon footprints. With multiple vendors battling one another to shrink chips in two-year cycles, it becomes ever important to drive sales by securing clients with the allure of an evolved nanometer geometry.

And that’s as we enter uncharted territory, with shrinking processes demanding new fabrication tooling.

TSMC is expanding their manufacturing process to create 5nm and 3nm chips by 2020, and are actively experimenting with 7nm chip building while also researching 2nm technology. TSMC expects their 10nm process to be profitable by the end of 2017, keeping them in ever close pace with Samsung.

- Eric Hamilton

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