Former TSMC Spokeswoman Says $52 Billion CHIPS Act Won’t Help U.S. Chip Manufacturing

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Intel chief Mr. Patrick Gelsinger during a press conference in Malaysia in December 2021. Image: AP

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A former spokeswoman for the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) has shared her opinion that a recent multi-billion dollar semiconductor funding bill that cleared the U.S. Congress earlier this week will prove to be insufficient when it comes to shaking up the semiconductor industry. The bill in question is the U.S. CHIPS Act, and it contains several provisions that promise government funding for chip companies that aim to either open manufacturing facilities in America or open centers for researching and developing new chipmaking technologies, particularly for nodes with feature sizes smaller than 3-nanometers.

The spokeswoman's comments came during a Twitter conversation held by Bloomberg Technology, in which she compared the size of the bill with TSMC's capital expenditure to make the argument that it barely scratches the surface for establishing large-scale facilities.

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The interview took place earlier this week and it saw representatives from Bloomberg Technology interview Ms. Elizabeth Sun who worked at TSMC for 16 years from 2003 to 2019, alongside the company's founder Dr. Morris Chang.

The conversation started off with Ms. Sun clarifying that since she is no longer working at TSMC, her views are not representative of the company and are simply her own opinions. She also praised her former employer and stated that when she joined TSMC in 2003, there was nothing but praise for the firm in the industry.

Halfway through, she was asked which regions out the U.S., E.U., Japan and China have the best chance of developing a sturdy semiconductor industry. In response, Ms. Sun outlined that:

Well, this is a very complicated issue as we have already said, the semiconductor industry has been a global industry with a well established global supply chain. Now over sudden well. Say all of a sudden in the last few years, all these regions and countries are all talking about competition and building out its own complete supply chain domestically. Well. I don't really know if it is really worthwhile. So is that really needed? Is that really possible? And even if it is possible, how long will it take? So I think we should spend resources to help smooth out the kinks in the supply chain. Instead of, you know, throwing out billions and billions of money building out all these separate and fragmented manufacturing capacities all over the place, I think the industry should spend resources wisely in researching and developing new materials, design architectures and new semiconductor applications.

TSMC shared progress of its new chipmaking facility in Arizona, U.S. in June this year. Image: TSMC

Later on, she noted that while it was understandable that the U.S. government wanted to further boost its local chip manufacturing

I don't fault the US government for trying to revive its semiconductor industry. I think it's an important industry and US so far is still a leader in this industry. But the money spent to build out capacity is really not that meaningful. Well $52 billion is really not a lot of money you just look at the CapEx [Capital Expenditure] TSMC spends in just a single year. So what does $52 billion do? Secondly, you know why don't you spend money in R&D? Spend the resources in R&S, in materials, in architecture, in innovative applications which will pay much bigger dividends.

But you say oh but because of geopolitical conflicts and so there are choking points in the SC. but SC is complex! As long as one element is missing this whole supply chain can be stuck, so it really doesn't matter if you are just missing one element or if you're missing a dozen or a hundred elements. All of you are stuck. So how can you be certain that at any given point in time everything you need is there domestically? That's not realistic. That's not realistic.

So instead, you should work out collaborative models. The politicians should try to avoid too much conflicts among the world.

When asked whether global peace is necessary for a healthy chip industry, Ms. Sun agreed and responded by saying:

That point has been demonstrated in the past several decades as long as the semiconductor industry has been in existence. It has always been the case. And now all of a sudden some self serving companies with separate agenda, cetain self serving politicians come up, you know, escalating the conflict? That's not wise!

She ended the conversation by stating that the chipmaking industry is a tough business to remain consistently profitable in and that the historic demand in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic had masked this fact on the firms' balance sheets. She also added that it is nearly impossible for newcomers to catch up with the established players in the industry since the sector is extremely technologically and capital intensive.

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