A small subtropical island off the coast of southeast China, Taiwan is subject to certain cyclical weather changes throughout the year, the most notorious of which is its yearly typhoons that at different times benefit its agricultural industry and cause various natural disasters.
Much like everything else that happened in 2020, last year marked a stark exception for the island’s climate, which saw no typhoons, resulting in a relatively dry year. Compounding the issue is the current season of low precipitation. Taken together, these factors have since resulted in a significant drought that required an all-hands-on-deck approach from the government, such as rationing water on specific weekdays and advising industries to cut down on water consumption.
Meanwhile, a similar drought has been taking place in the global semiconductor world. As the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic last year brought fundamental changes to the way we work, study, and live, so too has the general public’s consumption of electronic devices – and, in turn, the worldwide demand for chips used in these devices – risen.
If there are bumps in the road to Taiwanese foundries’ continued dominance, lack of rain certainly isn’t one.
Seeing as how Taiwan is the central hub of the world’s advanced semiconductor technologies, acts as home to industry leader TSMC (which is the exclusive supplier of Apple’s M1 processors), and accounts for more than half of the world’s chip manufacturing capacity, industries and media alike are fearing that the domestic drought will exacerbate the current global chip shortage, since chip fabrication processes require enormous amounts of clean water.
However, true to its market leadership, the Taiwanese semiconductor industry has so far remained unaffected, at least on the supply side, by the water shortage. This is in part due to the fact that domestic foundries (i.e., chip manufacturers) have previously completed numerous drills related to worst-case scenarios of long droughts and are accordingly well prepared in these extenuating circumstances. Furthermore, the foundries also signed contracts with utility companies to ensure an ample supply of water to keep fabs (semiconductor fabrication plants) running via water tank trucks.
TrendForce therefore expects domestic foundry operations to continue unabated for the time being. Case in point, on April 15, TSMC announced an increased capital expenditure of US$30 billion for 2021. The foundry is also actively expanding its production capacity of mature technology processes in response to the growing demand from clients worldwide.
In the world of semiconductors, advancements in process technologies occupy merely one part of the equation when it comes to long-term success. Other requirements pertain to governmental, infrastructural, climate, procedural, and talent-related dimensions, just to name a few.
While Taiwanese foundries look for a way out of the ongoing drought, they are not only acing these requirements in spades, but also staying in the spotlight of the electronics supply chain in light of geopolitical tensions, oligopolistic market trends, and the persistent global health crisis. If there are bumps in the road to Taiwanese foundries’ continued dominance, lack of rain certainly isn’t one.