When it begins production in early 2024, TSMC's fab in Arizona will be the foundry's first advanced fab in years located outside of Taiwan. According to recent reports, while the fab will operate in the USA, it will be at least partially built in Taiwan in order to save some money on setting it up and to ensure a smooth ramp-up of the production facility.
In a bid to ship parts of the fab from Taiwan to the U.S., TSMC is expected to use as many as 4,000 to 5,000 containers and spend around $110 million on transportation, reports Taiwan News. Han Tang, a cleanroom engineering firm from Taiwan, Evergreen Marine Corp., and Wan Hai shipping companies are expected to be involved in the project. It is unclear what exactly TSMC plans to build in Taiwan before shipping it to the USA, and the company hasn't commented on the matter.
Modern fabs use hundreds of different tools that are made all around the world and then installed and set up locally. ASML, which makes lithography scanners, installs EUV tools itself, and it is unlikely that TSMC will ship these scanners to Taiwan, have them assembled and set up, and then ship to the U.S.
There are also tools made by companies like Applied Materials, KLA, and LAM Research in the USA, which would also be shipped directly to Arizona. Meanwhile, there are custom-built tools used by TSMC that are made in Taiwan. For the contract maker of semiconductors, it might be easier to set them up in Taiwan and then ship to the USA rather than to set them up locally since developers of such equipment are in Taiwan.
TSMC has built its advanced fabs in Taiwan for many years. Furthermore, the company tends to produce chips using a particular node at the same fab (albeit in different modules/phases), so the company does not have a program akin to Intel's Copy Exactly that allows the chip giant to quickly set up production at a new location and maintain experience and fab equipment configurations across different sites. To that end, it is not going to be easy for TSMC to build a 5nm-capable fab in the U.S. and maintain the same fab configuration and yields as it does in its Taiwan-based fabs.
Perhaps this is why TSMC reportedly wants to at least partly build the fab equipment in Taiwan and then ship it to the U.S. via cargo ships. Another reason why TSMC reportedly opts for such an unusual way of building a production facility could be the fact that its fabs and cleanrooms are architected in Taiwan and are designed to be built by local companies.
TSMC does not comment on its fab plans and we cannot verify what exactly the company plans to build in Taiwan for its Arizona fab. Meanwhile, as ironic as it may sounds, but it looks like TSMC's first advanced U.S.-based fabs in years will be partly built in Taiwan.