There has been so much talk about where semiconductors are made, supply chain diversification, and geopolitics. But before we can start worrying about all that, its worth considering how chips actually have to be built. An article in The New York Times explores how this happens at a plant at Intel, while also covering the increasingly demanding technology and infrastructure needed to run a factory like this.
Fabs must also be impervious to just about any vibration, which can cause costly equipment to malfunction. So fab clean rooms are built on enormous concrete slabs on special shock absorbers.
Intel chips typically sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars each. Intel in March released its fastest microprocessor for desktop computers, for example, at a starting price of $739. A piece of dust invisible to the human eye can ruin one. So fabs have to be cleaner than a hospital operating room and need complex systems to filter air and regulate temperature and humidity.
Semiconductor manufacturing also requires water. Lots of water.
Intel’s two sites in Chandler collectively draw about 11 million gallons of water a day from the local utility. Intel’s future expansion will require considerably more, a seeming challenge for a drought-plagued state like Arizona, which has cut water allocations to farmers.
Always on the edge of what is technologically possible, this industry is financially and and logistically demanding.
Though boosting domestic manufacturing can reduce supply risks somewhat, the chip industry will continue to rely on a complex global web of companies for raw materials, production equipment, design software, talent and specialized manufacturing.
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