TSMC's US Fab Faces Delays From Workforce Shortage and Covid: Report

TSMC North America fabs incoming
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

According to several people with knowledge of the matter, TSMC's first advanced chip plant in the US isn't off to the best of starts. The insiders suggested to Nikkei Asia that the project may already be three to six months behind schedule. The primary cause for the delays concerns personnel. Specifically, recruiting qualified and experienced staff has been difficult, coupled with time being taken off for Covid isolation. US building regulations and construction licensing have also been unwelcome and unfamiliar hurdles for TSMC, the source report indicates. Despite these worrying murmurings from unnamed sources, TSMC may still be on track, as traditionally there are buffers built into schedule to account for potential construction and commissioning problems.

The advanced Arizona facility being built by TSMC was announced in May 2020 and building started with a ground breaking ceremony in June 2021, with the official publicly stated goal of the start of mass production scheduled for early 2024. On its home turf in Taiwan, TSMC recently moved advanced new facilities from the ground breaking phase to mass production in the space of two years. If TSMC was confident of similar progress in the US, it would have put forward a mass production date in late 2023. Perhaps with foresight, it did not.

So far, Taiwan has successfully shielded its citizens from the worst of the pandemic. Life and work on the island have been pretty normal for the last couple of years, except for the masks, QR codes, and lack of international travel. This means Covid hasn't had a noticeable impact on factory building and commissioning in Taiwan. However, this won't the case in the US, where the pandemic has been quite virulent and TSMC has to get used to differences in supply chains, partners, regulations, and more. To ease the change, TSMC has done things like pre-fabricating some factory structures in Taiwan before shipping them to Arizona.

(Image credit: TSMC)

Another thread that weaves through the Nikkei Asia report concerns the strong competition for qualified workers in Arizona. It points out that the town of Chandler, where Intel plans a $20 billion expansion of its existing campus, is just 50km away from TSMC's upcoming fab. A local commercial foundation noted earlier in the month that Arizona's labor pool is going to be "strained" throughout 2022. Moreover, locals will be pretty familiar with Intel, but perhaps less so with TSMC and its employee customs and work practices.

Stepping back from the report, which is again based on unnamed sources, TSMC's plans in Arizona are still officially on track. Any known change to that would require a statement to investors. TSMC founder Morris Chang is well aware of potential staffing issues that may turn up later down the line without the same "excellent" pool of Taiwanese engineers and executives ready to fill vacancies. However, one of the bigger problems TSMC may face in the US is the projected higher unit cost of making chips there. We shall have to see about that, once the fab is up and running, as there are various US national and state incentives for chip makers.

Mark Tyson
Freelance News Writer

Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.

  • jkflipflop98
    So basically they aren't used to building codes and having employees that are voluntary? Strange how the other guys in the area don't have any of these problems.
  • Blaming Covid is easier
  • jkflipflop98
    Makes you wonder what type of shoddy construction methods were used on their previous fabs if they're "doing it how they always do it" and having issues passing code here.