TSMC 5nm Plant Production Hit By Polluted Oxygen – No “Significant” Impact Outlines Company

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The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's (TSMC) Fab 18a in Taiwan's Tainan city experienced contaminated gas supplies yesterday which affected production. The facility is responsible for manufacturing processors on the company's advanced 5nm semiconductor process and TSMC's statements to the press following the accident were eager to stress that no significant production disruption had taken place.  According to reports from the Taiwanese press, TSMC's Fab 18a shut down supplies yesterday night in Taiwan after it was discovered that an Oxygen supply truck pumped the gas with higher impurity values than the control amount allows for, resulting in TSMC suspending all supplies to evaluate the situation.

TSMC Stresses Contaminated Oxygen Did Not Significantly Affect Chip Production At Tainan Fab

Reports of the incident surfaced in the Taiwanese press in the morning local time, when the United Daily News reported that some production lines at the Nan-ke Tainan fab were shut down and suppliers were instructed to stop delivering raw materials. The reason behind the halt was contaminated Oxygen supplies and TSMC employees had worked throughout the night to determine the nature of the contamination and the disruption. A statement from TSMC which followed these reports outlined that chip production was proceeding as normal, while supply chain sources reported that some production disruption had taken place.

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TSMC suppliers quoted by Liberty Times also reported that as of early morning Taiwan time, some production lines in Fab 18a had not resumed normal operations. Factory officials quoted by the publication outlined that since Oxygen is used throughout the fab if the contaminated gas ended up entering the facility's gas lines, the damage caused could have been more severe. Additionally, they detailed that if the gas enters pipes supplying production lines, then production has to be shut down to clear the pipes and some wafers will be lost in the process.

TSMC's Fab 18 was the center of a production outage earlier today. Image: Zhou Zongzhen

TSMC's (translated) statement, provided to the United Daily News just before noon outlined that:

Some of the gas supplied by the manufacturer in some of the Nanke plants is suspected of being contaminated, and other gas supplies have been dispatched immediately. To ensure the quality of production, TSMC is currently proceeding strict follow-up operations. This incident is currently known to have no significant impact on operations and will continue to be followed up.

The fab ensured that alternative Oxygen supplies were readily available and it was reported to hold a meeting at noon Taiwan time to determine the nature and scope of the problem. A statement by the government officials in Nan-ke made early afternoon classified the matter as TSMC's internal affair and outlined that the fab does not need any help from the local administration for the time being.

Chip fabrication is a process involving hundreds of sub-processes and a big chunk of these use Oxygen. These include processes directly involved in chip fabrication and wafer cleaning, and right now it appears that TSMC has the situation under control. Due to the delicate nature of chip fabrication, even a small disruption in production risks 'wasting' wafers that r currently being printed with the billions of tiny circuits referred to as transistors. TSMC's 5nm process prints these circuits to the width several times smaller than that of a human hair.

These chips are set to be supplied to some of the world's biggest companies, for use in smartphones and personal computing products, as TSMC, which is the world's largest contact chip maker, gears up to mass-produce semiconductors manufactured on the 3nm process node next year.