How Silicon Valley lost the chips race (2023)

Thanks to the CHIPS and Science Act, which went into effect in August 2022, the US government has $52 billion in new funding to try to revitalize the country's semiconductor industry. Although semiconductors were invented in the United States and generally still require US software and tools to design and manufacture them, most chips are now made elsewhere, mostly in East Asia. But in the face of escalating competition between the US and China - and with Washington's rolloutfar-reaching new restrictionson China's access to advanced computer technologies - improving the US position in chip manufacturing has become a national security priority. That the most advanced processors can only be manufactured outside of the United States, mostly in Taiwan, adds to the risk.

Rebuilding the US role in manufacturing will be expensive, as the CHIPS and Science Act recognizes. TSMC, Samsung, and Intel -- the three largest companies making processor chips -- will likely all receive funding for new semiconductor manufacturing plants in the United States. But an influx of new money alone cannot solve the problem at its core. A cultural shift is also needed in Silicon Valley and Washington to prioritize the challenges faced by advanced manufacturing companies, including chipmakers and their key suppliers.

Silicon Valley has strayed too far from its manufacturing roots, focusing on apps and the web, while Washington policymakers are more fixated on consumer-centric big tech companies than the hardware all computers depend on. As the US government tries to revitalize the semiconductor industry, it will only succeed if it learns lessons from the early days of Silicon Valley. This isn't the first time U.S. chip companies have faced intense foreign competition amid fears of falling behind. In the 1980s, leading US semiconductor manufacturers such as Intel were on the brink of bankruptcy. Intel was saved by CEO Andrew Grove fueled by the realizationthat advanced technology depends not only on creativity and innovation, but also on highly efficient precision manufacturing. To help the US chip industry, Washington policymakers must first adjust their definition of "technology" to include advanced manufacturing.

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The long decline in processor chip production in the United States has a number of complex causes. Several factors have pushed up the cost of chip manufacturing in the United States relative to other countries. In the United States, environmental regulations on the toxic chemicals used in chip manufacturing have become more stringent. Labor costs in the US are higher than in parts of East Asia, although labor accounts for a smaller proportion of the cost of manufacturing semiconductors than many other types of manufacturing.

Most importantly, other governments have offered significant tax incentives for chip manufacturing that the United States was unable to offer until recently. China's wave of subsidies, available through its Made in China 2025 program and other government initiatives, represents the latest step in an arms race on semiconductor subsidies that has nothing to do with market competition.

Meanwhile, the chip industry has experienced relentless consolidation. Several decades ago, two dozen companies could produce advanced processor chips, but today only three companies produce the most advanced processors: Taiwan's TSMC, South Korea's Samsung, and Intel of the United States. Each company keeps most of its production in its home country. For this reason, the fate of the United States' domestic chip manufacturing capabilities depends in no small part on the development of a single company: Intel.

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Grove, the Budapest-born refugee who ran the company for several decades, saw manufacturing as core to Intel's identity. After becoming president of the company in 1979, he rescued it from the brink of bankruptcy amid an onslaught of Japanese competition. Within a decade, Intel processor chips were in more than half of all computers ever built. Since then, the company has generated over $250 billion in profits.

When Grove first became President of Intel, his primary business was selling memory chips, which were primarily used in enterprise mainframe computers. But Japanese firms had entered the sector by the mid-1970s and had learned to make chips that were less expensive to manufacture and had fewer defects than chips from US competitors. Watching this, Grove knew the company needed to move away from mass storage chips and refocus on higher-value products like the advanced microprocessors that IBM was building into a new device called the "personal computer."

The United States has lost the ability to make the most advanced processor chips.

Exiting the memory chip market seemed impossible to many at Intel, just as Ford made the decision to stop making cars. But Grove finally worked up the courage to go out of the memory chip business, laying off a quarter of Intel's workforce and closing several facilities. Alongside this restructuring, Grove pursued a second strategy: ruthlessly improving manufacturing quality. Grove described his philosophy in a bestseller,Only the paranoid survive: “The fear of competition, the fear of bankruptcy, the fear of being wrong, and the fear of losing can be powerful motivators.” After a long day at work, it was fear that made Grove flip through his correspondence or with Calling subordinates, fearing he might have missed news about product delays or unhappy customers.

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At Grove's revitalized Intel, workdays started sharply at 8 a.m. in the late 1980s and 1990s. A free-ranging Silicon Valley culture was replaced by drill sergeant discipline. Grove instituted a new policy, dubbed "copy accurate," by which the company would determine the best manufacturing process and then teach its engineers to replicate it across its facilities. Many resented being told to implement rather than invent. However, as each of the company's factories began to function less like a research lab and more like a finely tuned machine, productivity rose and costs fell.

However, Grove's disk management only explains part of Intel's resurgence in the 1980s. Intel not only managed to streamline manufacturing, although that was critical, but also by merging manufacturing excellence with world-class chip design. Intel called this the "tick-tock" method: each "tick" - an improvement in the manufacturing process - was coupled with a "tock", a more efficient chip design. The close interaction between manufacturing, software, and system design kept Intel at the forefront of the PC processor business for three decades.

After Grove retired from Intel in 2005, the company began to drift. Because Intel's core business of building chips for personal computers has been profitable for so long, the discipline's corporate culture began to wane, the statement said Interviews I conducted with former employees. Years of profits tempered the sense of Grovean paranoia that once permeated the company. Longtime employees noticed that executives' shirts were getting whiter with each passing year, while chemists and physicists lost clout to the finance department. A company that was an icon of American technology slid into a decades-long decline. After Grove's departure, the company failed to make big, bold, and risky bets. Its chip-making skills, which were among the most advanced in the world, fell behind TSMC and Samsung of South Korea, which can now make chips with greater precision than Intel. The company missed major changes in the industry and failed to anticipate smartphones and the rise of artificial intelligence. "It had the technology, it had the people, it just wouldn't take the margin hit," a former Intel finance executive told me.

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After his retirement, Grove expressed concern that the United States' advanced manufacturing capabilities were eroding. "The abandonment of today's 'commodity' manufacturing can lock you out of tomorrow's emerging industry," he noted in 2010, warning that Silicon Valley's fixation on software at the expense of hardware is misguided.

Grove viewed the electric battery industry as a case study of how the loss of manufacturing capacity could lead to an erosion of innovation. The United States "lost its lead in batteries 30 years ago when it stopped making consumer electronics," Grove said in 2010. At the time, American companies hadn't innovated in making batteries for personal computers; now they are far behind competitors, particularly in South Korea and China, in producing batteries for electric vehicles. "I doubt they'll ever catch up," Grove predicted with depressing accuracy.

But Grove's warnings about the importance of advanced manufacturing in the broader "tech" ecosystem have been ignored. Most in Silicon Valley wrote him off as a representative of a bygone era. After all, he had built Intel before the Internet existed. Founded in 2006, Facebook soon became many times more valuable than Intel, despite producing nothing and selling little except advertising. Intel could reply that the Internet's data was processed on its chips. However, making chips was less profitable than selling ads in apps. However, over time, the United States has lost the ability to manufacture the most advanced processor chips. Chips, which are crucial for applications ranging from smartphones to artificial intelligence in data centers, can now only be manufactured abroad.

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After a shock in the supply chain and amid a deepening rivalry with China, US political and business leaders are beginning to see what is at stake. The passage of the CHIPS and Science Act shows that, for the first time in decades, Washington is willing to spend significant sums of money to support chipmakers. This is a crucial first step, but political leaders must also improve the business environment for manufacturing. Building permits, environmental regulations and tax policies arecritical determinantsthe profitability of a production site. Innovation alone is not enough to revitalize chip manufacturing in the US unless chip manufacturing is also commercially viable.



What happened to the US semiconductor industry? ›

Semiconductor talent was in short supply in 2022—and the shortage is expected to get even worse in 2023 for parts of the industry and be a challenge for the rest of the decade. The race to localize semiconductor manufacturing is intensifying globally and is exacerbating the chip talent and skill shortage issues.

Why is there a shortage of semiconductor chips? ›

The semiconductor industry is cyclical at the best of time; gluts and shortages are not uncommon. But the pandemic magnified the problem, as workers stuck at home rushed to buy kit. Data-centre demand also spiked, as people turned to video-calling, video-streaming and video gaming.

How far is Intel behind TSMC? ›

The reason for this is simply that Intel has its 2nm node (called 20A, followed by 18A six months later) lined up for production to start in the first half of 2024, which compares to TSMC's equivalent node (called N2) which is scheduled for the second half of 2025, a non-insignificant 12- to 18-month lag compared to ...

Who is the Netherlands chip maker? ›

ASML is the only company in the world that makes a specific machine needed to make the most advanced chips. Apple couldn't make iPhone chips without this one machine from the Netherlands' biggest company. ASML doesn't just shape the Dutch economy — it shapes the entire world economy.

Why can't America make semiconductors? ›

The US national, state, and local governments have created tax and regulatory policy that makes investing in new manufacturing capacity for semiconductors incredibly difficult. It takes mountains of money and many years to even get through the process of permitting and approval to being a project in the US.

Can the US make its own semiconductors? ›

But the US has much catching up to do. US-based fabs, or chip manufacturing plants, currently only account for 12% of the world's modern semiconductor manufacturing capacity, according to data from the Semiconductor Industry Association trade group.

What is the truth behind the chip shortage? ›

Chipmakers' manufacturing capacity has been gobbled up, effectively blocking automakers from getting the semiconductors they need.

Does China have a chip shortage? ›

The shortage has worsened since October 2022, when the U.S. imposed sweeping curbs on the export of semiconductors made with U.S. technology. The export curbs were designed to cut off China's supply of critical technology that it may have been using for advanced computing and weapons manufacturing.

Which country is the largest producer of semiconductors? ›

Number of Operational and Planned Fabs December 4, 2022: 15

South Korea's exports stood at $644 billion in 2021, out of which integrated circuits, or semiconductors, formed the largest chunk as they accounted for more than 15% of the overall pie.

Who is bigger TSMC or Intel? ›

TSMC is the world's largest contract chipmaker, while Intel is the leading manufacturer of CPUs for PCs and servers.

Why did Buffett buy TSMC? ›

Typically averse to tech investments, the TSMC buy was an unexpected move from the “oracle of Omaha,” but it made sense given that the company is a key supplier for Berkshire's “family jewel” Apple.

Why is TSMC moving to Arizona? ›

The ability to develop a cluster of tech-related companies and thereby shorten supply chains that were strained during the COVID-19 pandemic is a major benefit of landing the TSMC project in Phoenix. Dr. Mark Liu, TSMC's chairman, predicted at least 40 supply companies will locate nearby, bringing thousands more jobs.

Who is the largest chip supplier in the world? ›

  • #1 Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. ( TSM)
  • #2 Intel Corp. ( INTC)
  • #3 Qualcomm Inc. ( QCOM)
  • #4 Broadcom Inc. ( AVGO)
  • #5 Micron Technology Inc. ( MU)
  • #6 NVIDIA Corp. ( NVDA)
  • #7 Applied Materials, Inc. (AMAT)
  • #8 ASE Technology Holding Co. Ltd. ( ASX)

Who is the biggest chip maker in the US? ›

1. Intel Corporation (Leading Semiconductor Company in USA) Intel is world leader in silicon innovation develops processor technologies and supports global initiatives.

Who is building a chip factory in the USA? ›

Chipmaker Micron Technology announced today it will spend $20 billion to build what it called the largest ever US semiconductor factory, and it may spend up to $100 billion over 20 years to expand it.

Why is Taiwan the only chip manufacturer? ›

Why are so many semiconductors made in Taiwan? Due to its strong OEM wafer manufacturing capabilities and comprehensive industrial supply chain, Taiwan has been able to differentiate itself from its competitors and dominate the global market.

Does China rely on the US for semiconductors? ›

Since more than 95% of such chips used in China are designed by U.S. semiconductor companies and therefore subject to U.S. export controls, loss of access to U.S. chips puts China's entire future as an AI superpower in jeopardy.

What will replace silicon chips? ›

Cubic boron arsenide is one of the best semiconductors known to science and could even dethrone silicon as the principal component of modern electronics.

What is the solution to chip shortage? ›

Short-term solutions

With the chip shortage, this might entail removing nonessential features underpinned by unavailable chips, minimizing product customization, qualifying parts from multiple suppliers, or creating new products that rely on available chips and serve untapped market niches.

Where does the US get most of its semiconductors? ›

Figure 2 shows the breakdown of U.S. exports and imports of semiconductors across destinations and origins for 2021. Malaysia, Taiwan, and China are the largest sources of U.S. imports and important destinations for U.S. exports of semiconductors.

Do Russia make semiconductors? ›

Russia and Ukraine are major producers of two key materials used in semiconductor manufacturing: neon and palladium. Ukraine represents about 70 to 80 percent of the global supply of neon 1, and Russia produces about 35 to 45 percent of the world's palladium supply 2.

How many chips are in a car? ›

The New York Times NYT -1.5% said that a modern vehicle can use as many as 3,000 semiconductor chips, while another source said over 1000.

How long until chip shortage is over? ›

As a result, through the end of 2022 and into 2023, chip supplies are expected to be in surplus in many chip nodes, which analysts expect will be absorbed through much of 2023 by customers.

Will the chip shortage ever be fixed? ›

At a Glance. The semiconductor shortage won't end on a single date. Some companies are starting to see relief this year, while others may have to wait until 2024 or later. Softening demand is the fastest route to relief, and it's conceivable given the slowdown in the global economy.

Will the US make chips? ›

The CHIPS and Science Act aims to revitalize domestic chip manufacturing and boost U.S. competitiveness with China. The U.S. produces about 10% of the world's supply of semiconductors, but otherwise relies on East Asia for 75% of the global production.

What country is causing the chip shortage? ›

The pandemic's impact on the manufacture of semiconductors in South Korea and Taiwan was cited as a cause for the shortage, with constrained supply impacting industries as broad as console gaming and the automotive industry.

Why the US cut China off from advanced chips? ›

Why is the US doing this? Advanced chips are used to power supercomputers, artificial intelligence and military hardware. The US says China's use of the technology poses a threat to its own national security.

Are any semiconductors made in USA? ›

U.S. semiconductor companies do most of their manufacturing (52 percent) in the United States. 3. Semiconductors are one of America's top manufactured exports, behind only aircraft and automobiles. The U.S. semiconductor industry holds a dominant position in terms of global market share.

Why is Taiwan so good at making chips? ›

Asked why the Taiwanese are so good at chip manufacturing, Macronix vp Simon Wang replied back in 1998: “The advantage of the Taiwan cost structure is that you can make a big chip and make a profit on it, We get 15 per cent better output than anywhere else because of our culture of having MScs and BScs working 24 hours ...

Who is the No 1 semiconductor company in the world? ›

#1. Intel. Intel is the world's largest manufacturer by revenue of semiconductor chips. The company is best known for developing the microprocessors used by most computer manufacturing companies.

Why is Taiwan so big in semiconductor? ›

Due to its strong capabilities in OEM wafer manufacturing and a complete industry supply chain, Taiwan has been able to distinguish itself from its competitors and dominate the global marketplace. Taiwan semiconductor sector accounted for US$115 billion, which is ca. 20% of global semiconductor industry.

Why did Apple choose TSMC? ›

Industry sources said the upgraded production tech is also designed to be more cost-effective than its predecessor. As TSMC's largest customer and the biggest driver for new semiconductor technologies, Apple is still its most loyal partner when it comes to adopting the latest chip technology.

Does Apple use Intel chips? ›

Starting with certain models introduced in late 2020, Apple began the transition from Intel processors to Apple silicon in Mac computers.

Who is the biggest shareholder of TSMC? ›

Sanders Capital LLC is the largest individual Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co shareholder, owning 42.25M shares representing 0.16% of the company. Sanders Capital LLC's Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co shares are currently valued at $3.69B.

What is the world's largest highest valued semiconductor chip making company? ›

TSMC is the world's largest chip maker and a vital supplier to the United States and other Western nations. It is by far the largest of Taiwan's chipmakers, which together produce more than 90 percent of the world's highest-tech chips, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

At what price did Buffett buy TSMC? ›

The lowest ADR price in the third quarter was $68.56 (on September 30), meaning Berkshire Hathaway paid at least $4.1 billion for the stake. TSMC was founded by Taiwanese billionaire Morris Chang in 1987, pioneering the contract chip making business.

Do semiconductor plants use a lot of water? ›

Yes, semiconductor plants do need a large supply of water to run. However, the vast majority of water that the plants are supplied isn't consumed. Rather, it is recycled and reused.

Why does chip manufacturing use so much water? ›

Water serves a critical role in chip production, as it's needed to rinse and clean silicon wafers as they are manufactured – and not just any water, but Ultrapure Water (UPW), which is thousands of times purer than drinking water.

Who owns the new chip factory in Arizona? ›

The White House and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing co. (TSMC) have announced plans to build a second chip plant in Arizona, AZCentral has reported. That will boost the company's investment in the state from $12 billion to $40 billion, while heavily reducing US reliance on semiconductor imports.

Where does Russia get its semiconductors? ›

China was the leading supplier of chips to Russia. In 2021, Russia imported semiconductors worth nearly 672 million U.S. dollars from China. The second-leading country of origin was Malaysia, followed by Vietnam and Philippines.

What country makes the best microchips? ›

Taiwan – world's top semiconductor manufacturing country

The biggest Taiwanese semiconductor company is TSMC (foundry). TSMC makes microchips for Intel, Apple, AMD, Nvidia, and Qualcomm.

Who makes most of the chips for cars? ›

#1 Infineon Technologies AG (Germany)

Infineon Technologies is a German semiconductor manufacturer that makes chips for a number of automotive firms. The list includes big European players like Volkswagen.

What is America's number one chip? ›

Hands down, Doritos Chips are the #1 best-selling chips of all time! Not only are they an all-American favorite, but they're also the #1 top-rated Frito-Lay brand of chips worldwide; especially the original Nacho Cheese flavor!

How many chip factories are being built in the US? ›

Currently, Intel is building four chip production plants, two in Arizona and two in Ohio, and one advanced packaging facility in New Mexico. Intel broke ground on Fab 52 and Fab 62 in the Ocotillo campus near Chandler, Arizona, in late September 2021, and the construction of those buildings is well underway.

Who is building the TSMC plant in Arizona? ›

More than 10,000 construction workers would be involved in building the plants, known as “fabs,” TSMC says. Work on the first plant is being led by a joint venture of Dallas-based Austin Commercial and Houston-based CTCI Americas Inc.

Why can't we make semiconductors? ›

Semiconductor foundries need a huge capital investment of billions of dollars and a considerable period of time to set up. Moreover, these foundries cannot produce chips at a very fast pace because the manufacturing process also takes time and requires expensive equipment.

Why did semiconductor manufacturing leave the US? ›

The U.S. does not provide a hospitable environment for the manufacturing of semiconductors. While other countries offer incentives to attract multi-billion dollar capital investments in semiconductor manufacturing and R&D capacity, the U.S. has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.

Why is the semiconductor industry down? ›

Fears of a global recession and weaker consumer spending habits have led to companies reducing expenditures for innovative semiconductor products across various markets.

What happened to the semiconductor market? ›

Like most unpleasant things in our lives over the past two years, there is a single underlying cause of the global semiconductor shortage that is now prolonging and exacerbating it: COVID-19. The demand caused by the pandemic is straining capacity at all points of the supply chain, starting with component suppliers.

What is happening in the semiconductor market? ›

Global semiconductor sales data released last week showed the industry experienced significant ups and downs in 2022. While chip sales reached the highest-ever annual total in 2022, the slowdown in the second half of the year substantially limited growth.

Does the US rely on China for semiconductors? ›

Such a situation makes the US and the rest of the world highly dependent on China. Another major country in the supply chain of semiconductors, especially advanced semiconductors used in the defense industry, is Taiwan.

What country makes the most microchips? ›

But in recent years, Taiwan's autonomy has become a vital geopolitical interest for the US because of the island's dominance of the semiconductor manufacturing market. Semiconductors – also known as computer chips or just chips – are integral to all the networked devices that have become embedded into our lives.

What is replacing semiconductors? ›

Cubic boron arsenide is one of the best semiconductors known to science and could even dethrone silicon as the principal component of modern electronics.

How long will the chip shortage last? ›

As a result, through the end of 2022 and into 2023, chip supplies are expected to be in surplus in many chip nodes, which analysts expect will be absorbed through much of 2023 by customers.

Why does Taiwan dominate the semiconductor industry? ›

Due to its strong capabilities in OEM wafer manufacturing and a complete industry supply chain, Taiwan has been able to distinguish itself from its competitors and dominate the global marketplace. Taiwan semiconductor sector accounted for US$115 billion, which is ca.

How did semiconductor shortage start? ›

Weak demand and COVID safety concerns forced the semiconductor industry to operate at a much-reduced capacity, driving utilization rates to historic low levels. During the lockdowns and the massive shift to work from home, many companies and consumers rushed to buy PCs and tablets in numbers not seen for many years.

When did the chip shortage start? ›

Severe weather. A severe winter storm in February 2021 forced the closure of three plants in Austin, Texas owned by Samsung, Infineon, and NXP Semiconductors, due to loss of electricity. This set back supply from these plants by several months.

Who bought all the semiconductor? ›

Berkshire Hathaway bought over 60 million shares in the world's largest semiconductor foundry company.

Why is the semiconductor shortage getting worse? ›

The global semiconductor shortage made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain issues shows no signs of improving as industries worldwide have had to halt production while waiting for processors.

What is the government doing about the semiconductor shortage? ›

Last year, the government announced a new incentive scheme worth Rs 76,000 crore to boost the semiconductor ecosystem in the country. This came on the back of the global chip shortage that has affected several industries and led to production cuts, price increases, shortages, among other issues.

What is the future of semiconductors? ›

Optimizing the sales and marketing of semiconductor technology. For the past century, semiconductor sales have grown steadily. Experts predict the industry will achieve $542.64 billion in annual revenue by 2022. This means semiconductor sales and marketing teams should expect to grow the existing market size.


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