US talks to Intel, TSMC about building local foundry fabs

May 11, 2020 // By Peter Clarke
US talks to chip makers about building local foundry fabs
The US government is in talks with Intel and TSMC about building wafer fabs to reduce the US dependence on Asia for chips, according to Reuters.

Intel is in discussions with the US Department of Defense while TSMC is talking to the US Department of Commerce, the report said. Samsung is also being approached to boost its Austin, Texas, facility, according to other reports.

Reuters states that Intel CEO Bob Swan wrote a letter to the Department of Defense in March offering to build a foundry in partnership with the DoD. "We currently think it is in the best interest of the United States and of Intel to explore how Intel could operate a commercial U.S. foundry to supply a broad range of microelectronics," the report quotes Swan saying in the letter.

However, it is notable that Intel, historically a supplier of high volume PC and networking chips, has tried to be a commercial foundry supplier of custom chips multiple times in its history and failed. The need to be customer-centric, flexible and to make numerous designs of ICs in varying volumes has been at odds with its traditional strength of optimizing a leading-edge design for performance and high volume manufacture.

And Intel has been losing its manufacturing prowess as problems with moving through the FinFET nodes have left the company trailing Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in terms of process technology. Intel is a 14nm moving to 10nm while TSMC is in high demand to produce circuits on 7nm and 5nm. That said the process nodes are more nominal and are more suitable for comparison within a company than across companies.

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