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TSMC Arizona plants mostly PR for Apple, suggests Bloomberg


While it is indeed likely that at least one of the TSMC Arizona plants will make chips for Apple, a Bloomberg report today argues that this is – for the next few years, at least – mostly for PR purposes.

It suggests that Apple will want to announce that some of its chips will be made in the US, but the reality will be rather unimpressive…

Background

The Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) announced back in 2020 that it would be building a $12B chipmaking plant in Arizona. Construction of the main chip facility was completed in August, with production scheduled to begin in 2024. It was subsequently reported that TSMC will build multiple plants in the US state.

It has so far been unclear whether the plant would make Apple chips. Apple helped lobby for subsidies for the plant, indicating that this was indeed the plan, while TSMC’s limited statements indicated that the fab would be for 5nm chips. This would put it out of the running for future Apple chips, as the company is expected to switch to a 3nm process a year before the plant becomes operational.

Subsequent reports suggested that the first plant will be upgraded to 4nm, but this would still leave it unable to make the Apple chips expected in 2023 and beyond, while the most recent report suggests that the second plant will use 3nm tech, currently the most advanced process for production.

We did, however, note that Apple is likely to have moved to 2nm by the time the plant comes online, raising the question of whether it will subsequently be upgraded to be able to make Apple A-series and M-series chips.

A move in that direction would make sense, given the ever-growing risk to Taiwan from China, but the timescale of any such plans is not known.

TSMC Arizona plants mostly PR

A new Bloomberg report suggests it’s unlikely that either of the TSMC Arizona plants will be making Apple processors “anytime soon.” It believes the plan is for Apple to instead buy some less-sophisticated chips, purely to be able to say that it is buying American.

You can just picture it now. It’s 2025 and Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has just taken the stage to announce the company’s latest gadget. It’s faster, more powerful, and in every way better than the previous iteration. And, one more thing: it features chips made in the US of A. The crowd applauds […]

What these factories are likely to offer is lesser components made using legacy manufacturing processes. [They will] likely to get orders for a couple of key chips used in lesser devices like AirPods, TV, HomePod or Watch.

Even if future TSMC Arizona plants do make A-series and M-series chips, the volume will again relegate it to PR status, suggests the piece.

The new site will produce 20,000 wafers of silicon chips per month. That’s less than 1.6% of the 1.3 million it currently churns out monthly. And even if it adds another Arizona plant, as expected, the US facility will be nowhere near able to fill Apple’s total orders.

Either way, Warren Buffet’s conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway offered a vote of confidence in TSMC’s future when it purchased a $4.1B stake in the chipmaker.

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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