Investing tens of billions of dollars will also be obsolete after 5 years, a grain of dust “flying color” of millions of dollars – the cause of the whole world in a chip crisis.

Tram Ho

The lack of semiconductor materials is threatening the auto industry as well as the tech giants, alarming alarm bells ringing from Washington, Brussels to Beijing. This situation raises a big question for policymakers, customers and investors: why don’t we make more chips?

There is one simple answer and one complicated answer. Put simply, it’s extremely difficult to make chips, and it’s getting harder and harder. “It’s not rocket science, it’s much harder,” is a saying that often exists in this industry.

Đầu tư hàng chục tỷ USD cũng sẽ lỗi thời sau 5 năm, 1 hạt bụi làm bay màu cả triệu USD – căn nguyên khiến cả thế giới lao đao trong cơn khủng hoảng chip - Ảnh 1.

Inside the chip factory of GlobalFoundries in the US.

The complex answer will be years to build a semiconductor factory and many billions of dollars. Former Intel executive Craig Barrett called their processor chip “the most complex device” humans have ever produced.

That is why countries find it difficult to autonomy in semiconductor technology. China sees chip autonomy as a national priority in its last five-year plan, while the US calls for building a domestically produced supply chain. Even the EU is considering making its own chips. Of course, success is still something unknown.

Making a chip typically takes more than three months, requiring giant factories, dust protection, multi-million-dollar machines, molten tin and lasers. The ultimate goal is to convert silicon wafers – elements extracted from plain sand – into a network of billions of tiny switches called transistors to form the foundation of electrical circuits that will eventually provide functionality. for phones, computers, cars, washing machines or satellites.

Most chips are groups of circuits that run software, manipulate data, and control the functionality of electronic devices. Different circuit arrangements bring different purposes. Chip companies try to pack more transistors into chips, improving performance and making devices more energy efficient. Intel’s first microprocessor – 4004 – was born in 1971, containing only 2,300 transistors with a size of 10 micrometres (10 parts per million meters). Today, companies like TSMC and Samsung make chips with better transistors, down to 5 nanometers (5 billionths of a meter) in size. For comparison, the average human hair is 100,000 nanometers in size.

Before you put silicon sheets into a chip maker, you need a very clean room. The individual transistors are many times smaller than viruses. A single grain of dust can cause havoc and millions of dollars of effort are wasted. To minimize this risk, chip manufacturers place their machines in dust-free rooms. To maintain that environment, the air is continuously filtered and very few people are allowed in. If more than 1 or 2 workers show up on the chip production line – even though they wear head-to-toe protective gear, it’s still a sign of instability. All must be remote. The silicon sheets cannot be touched by humans or exposed to the air. They move in the factory using robots.

Đầu tư hàng chục tỷ USD cũng sẽ lỗi thời sau 5 năm, 1 hạt bụi làm bay màu cả triệu USD – căn nguyên khiến cả thế giới lao đao trong cơn khủng hoảng chip - Ảnh 2.

Intel, Samsung, TSMC account for half of chip manufacturing revenue in 2020.

A chip consists of 100 layers of material. They are deposited, then partially removed to form a complex 3-dimensional structure that connects all the tiny transistors. Some of these layers are only as thin as an atomic layer.

Chip factories are always available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They do it for one reason: cost. Building a factory that produces about 50,000 silicon sheets costs $ 15 billion a month. Most of this money is spent on specialized equipment. Three big companies – Intel, Samsung, and TSMC make up the bulk of this investment. Their factories are more modern and cost over $ 20 billion each. This year, TSMC will spend $ 28 billion on new plants and equipment. Despite spending huge amounts of money building huge factories, they will become obsolete in 5 years or less. To avoid losses, chipmakers must generate $ 3 billion in profits from each factory. But now, only the biggest companies, especially the top three companies combined, have generated revenue of $ 188 billion. They are also the only unit capable of building many factories.

For a good return, the ratio of chips that are not rejected is an important metric. Any production line with this ratio lower than 90% creates problems. Chipmakers overcome this challenge by repeating valuable lessons over and over and developing technologies based on that knowledge. The industry’s “brutality” makes it so few companies have been able to keep up. Most of the 1.4 billion smartphone processors shipped each year are made by TSMC. Intel accounts for 80% market share of computer microprocessors. Samsung dominates the field of memory chips.

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Source : Genk