TSMC Prepares to Manufacture 3 nm Chips by 2020

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), one of the largest manufacturers in the world chips, said it would start producing mobile chipset at the 3 nm scale already in 2020. The first factory of the company able to build such component will begin already in place in 2019.

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Nearly all leading smartphones use a chip based on a 7-nanometer manufacturing process, but TSMC’s 5-nanometer chips are expected to appear by the end of 2019 or early 2020. However, this is not the case. TSMC would further start developing the technology to manufacturer 3 nm chip.

With its facilities ready, the company must take another year to refine the production of these components, testing and preparing for mass production. With this, it is only in 2021 that the company can be really ready to start manufacturing a Snapdragon for Qualcomm or an A-series chip for Apple.

That means that by 2022, we will be able to see the first top-of-the-line smartphones with 3 nm chips on the market. Before that, however, TSMC and its competitors (especially Samsung and Huawei) must first pass the 5nm smartphone chipset.

A green factory?

Before the chipmaker could begin construction, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) conducted an environmental study to see if the region could supply the water and electricity needed for the plant.

The study revealed that TSMC’s 3-nm etching plant would use 20 percent renewable energy and 50 percent recycled water, according to Taiwan News. Production of the plant will begin in 2022, and the facility is expected to produce its first chips in early 2023. Another 5-nm manufacturing plant is expected to be installed next year, with production scheduled for early 2020.

Hundreds of engineers worked on the initial research and development for the new manufacturing process – the factory will be located in the 28-hectare Tainan Park next to the one that will make the 5-nanometer chips.

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What about 7nm?

Since the second half of this year, we have used 7nm chips on top-of-the-line smartphones, but 2019 will be the first year that this standard should dominate the industry. That’s because Qualcomm finally managed to put its Snapdragon 855 on the market. From January, the first smartphone Lenovo Z5 Pro GT with this chip will reach consumers. Until then, the company’s chips were on the 10 nm scale.

To reach 3 nm, TSCM informs that it will invest heavily in this new technology. The company will invest the US $19 billion until mass production of these chips begins. What’s more, the new scale is likely to require the Chip developers such as Qualcomm, MediaTek, and Apple to abandon the FinFET architecture and develop another standard.

Samsung and Huawei develop their mobile chipsets, but both also have their own manufacturing structures. Samsung is even the world’s largest in this manufacturing market but has not yet been able to abandon Qualcomm’s chips on several of its smartphones.

TSMC has kept secrecy about its plans involving the new chip design, possibly to prevent Samsung from hastening investment in that area as well.

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