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Samsung's Chip Fabs in Texas Ordered to Shut Down Due to Power Shortage

Samsung Austin Fab
(Image credit: Samsung)

In a development that certainly isn't going to help the ongoing global chip shortage, according to a report from the Austin-American Statesman, Samsung has been ordered to completely shut down its fabs in Austin, Texas, due to power shortages in the state. The unprecedented move also impacts NXP Semiconductors and Infineon Semiconductors, and all of the impacted companies have complied with the order and ceased chip production operations. 

Unplanned fab shutdowns can have long-lasting impacts; for instance, a thirty-minute power shutdown in 2018 at a Samsung fab destroyed 3% of the global supply of NAND. Additionally, as seen from an unplanned power loss at Samsung's Hwaseong plant last month, it can take several days after power restoration for a fab to resume full operations.

The Statesman notes that some products could have been ruined due to today's shutdown, possibly costing the impacted companies millions of dollars. Some types of chips can take a month or more to move through the various fabrication steps, and unplanned power outages can cause entire production lines of products to be discarded, resulting in significant losses. For now, it's unknown whether Samsung was given enough notice before the power cut to shut the fabs down gracefully, which would minimize the impact in terms of lost products and speed the resumption of normal operations once power is restored. 

Regardless, the impact will obviously stem the flow of chips coming from Samsung's two Austin fabs. Even relatively short fab disruptions have resulted in long-term shortages and price hikes in the past, which certainly isn't good news in the midst of the ongoing global chip shortage. Chip production plants do have backup power generators to defray the impact of unplanned shutdowns, but these systems are typically designed to handle short periods of time to enable a graceful shutdown, so they aren't suitable for long-term outages. 

Samsung built its first Austin fab in 1996. The company added a second fab in 2007, which it expanded in 2017. Samsung's public-facing information doesn't reveal which products it currently produces at the fabs, though they have historically focused on DRAM, NAND, and mobile SoCs. 

Notably, Samsung is in the midst of planning for a new $17 billion fab in the US this year, with Texas, Arizona, and New York in the running for the new plant. Naturally, access to reliable public infrastructure, such as power and water services, is high on the list of criteria. 

The Coalition for Clean, Affordable, Reliable Energy, which represents Austin's biggest electricity consumers, says that Austin Energy ordered all industrial and semiconductor manufacturers to idle or shut down their facilities and that all companies have complied with the order. There hasn't been a date given for resumption of normal operations at the fabs, but we're following up with Samsung and will update as necessary.   

  • Giroro
    I still don't understand why fabs don't have exceptionally-good backup power systems.
    What would it cost for Samsung (or others) to build themselves a small backup power-plant for each of their facilities? I would hope that it would be far less than the millions of dollars they lose every time there's a blackout. I would hope it would be a small cost relative to the Billions they say they spent on the rest of the facility.
    I get that in an unplanned outage, it is hard to make a backup system that doesn't at least brown-out some sensitive equipment for a minute or 2 while the generators spin up, but for a planned outage... they really don't have any way to at a minimum keep the systems "warm" without ruining all their product and requiring days to start back up? That doesn't make a lot of business sense. Maybe they just know that a newsworthy shutdown causes chip prices to spike for awhile, perhaps long enough that they break even or come out ahead?
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    Giroro said:
    I still don't understand why fabs don't have exceptionally-good backup power systems.
    What would it cost for Samsung (or others) to build themselves a small backup power-plant for each of their facilities? I would hope that it would be far less than the millions of dollars they lose every time there's a blackout. I would hope it would be a small cost relative to the Billions they say they spent on the rest of the facility.
    I get that in an unplanned outage, it is hard to make a backup system that doesn't at least brown-out some sensitive equipment for a minute or 2 while the generators spin up, but for a planned outage... they really don't have any way to at a minimum keep the systems "warm" without ruining all their product and requiring days to start back up? That doesn't make a lot of business sense. Maybe they just know that a newsworthy shutdown causes chip prices to spike for awhile, perhaps long enough that they break even or come out ahead?
    According to https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/dotcom/client_service/operations/pdfs/bringing_fabenergyefficiency.ashx, a large scale fab can use up to 100 megawatt-hours per hour. To put things in perspective, a Tesla Powerwall has up to a 13.5 kWh capacity. You would need around 7410 of these to keep a plant running for one hour.

    If anything, they probably have something in place to last them long enough to shut everything down safely, but that's it.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    Too many crypto miners drawing power? Unless the fab has been idling all the while and suddenly being ramped up to 100%, otherwise it should not come as a surprise the amount of power the fab and draw.
    Reply
  • jimbo007
    hotaru.hino said:
    According to https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/dotcom/client_service/operations/pdfs/bringing_fabenergyefficiency.ashx, a large scale fab can use up to 100 megawatt-hours per hour. To put things in perspective, a Tesla Powerwall has up to a 13.5 kWh capacity. You would need around 7410 of these to keep a plant running for one hour.

    If anything, they probably have something in place to last them long enough to shut everything down safely, but that's it.


    I doubt it but if that't correct (for large fabs) then it is an extremely huge amount of power. For comparison NY city has an energy (power actually) usage of 460 megawatts-hours per hour (or 11000 megawatt-hours per day). That's 1/5 the power draw of a very large city for a large semiconductor fab!
    Reply
  • danlw
    Get used to this sort of thing. As the country switches to renewables such as wind and solar, the power grid is less able to handle demand spikes when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. Tesla is working to solve the power with battery backed grids, but it will take decades to get anywhere near where it needs to be.

    The only real green energy option that is viable now is nuclear, but public perception is driving the wholesale shutdown of the industry, and new plants are not being built in spite of new safe reactor designs such as molten salt reactors that can cool themselves down even with zero power input.

    Beyond those, we're stuck with coal and natural gas. As these plants get shut down and replaced with wind/solar, the grid becomes less and less able to absorb spikes in demand due to things like arctic blasts and heat waves.
    Reply
  • UWguy
    Samsung needs to rethink doing business with Texas. Yes it looks cheap on the surface but this is what happens (oops!).
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    UWguy said:
    Samsung needs to rethink doing business with Texas. Yes it looks cheap on the surface but this is what happens (oops!).
    Texas is not unique. Extreme weather events happen all over.

    Thailand:
    https://www.zdnet.com/article/thailand-floods-to-lead-to-hard-drive-shortages-for-months/
    Reply
  • King_V
    danlw said:
    Get used to this sort of thing. As the country switches to renewables such as wind and solar, the power grid is less able to handle demand spikes when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. Tesla is working to solve the power with battery backed grids, but it will take decades to get anywhere near where it needs to be.

    The only real green energy option that is viable now is nuclear, but public perception is driving the wholesale shutdown of the industry, and new plants are not being built in spite of new safe reactor designs such as molten salt reactors that can cool themselves down even with zero power input.

    Beyond those, we're stuck with coal and natural gas. As these plants get shut down and replaced with wind/solar, the grid becomes less and less able to absorb spikes in demand due to things like arctic blasts and heat waves.

    Ah, one of THOSE posts.

    Uh, no, you do not, in fact, have to get used to this sort of thing "as the country switches to renewables." Further, nuclear is very slow to bring up in the real world, not because of public perception.

    You only described ONE solution, and we're already closer than your "decades to get anywhere near where it needs to be."

    There's so much wrong with this it's staggering.

    Oh, and, would you like to know one of the things that would have made stabilizing the grid, allowing power to be more readily brought in from elsewhere, and an increase in efficiency, to happen, but it was blocked by coal lobbying and certain political ignoramuses?

    This: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/08/how-trump-appointees-short-circuited-grid-modernization/615433/
    Reply
  • UWguy
    USAFRet said:
    Texas is not unique. Extreme weather events happen all over.

    Thailand:
    https://www.zdnet.com/article/thailand-floods-to-lead-to-hard-drive-shortages-for-months/

    Rubbish. Unlike the article mentioned above this event was completely preventable. The state that prides itself in the energy sector has over 2 million without power simply because they were too cheap to take the proper precautions. Texans have nobody but themselves to blame for this debacle because of the mental midgets they voted in running this **** show. Maybe Texans need to be a little more concerned about fundamentals and less with fringe issues.
    Reply
  • gggplaya
    jimbo007 said:
    I doubt it but if that't correct (for large fabs) then it is an extremely huge amount of power. For comparison NY city has an energy (power actually) usage of 460 megawatts-hours per hour (or 11000 megawatt-hours per day). That's 1/5 the power draw of a very large city for a large semiconductor fab!


    There's no reason to say megawatt-hours per hour. That doesn't make any sense. 460megawatts for 1 hour is a MWhr.

    Your usage of 11,000 MWhr - per day is fine.
    Reply