How Intel makes semiconductors in a global shortage

Some contain more than 50 billion tiny transistors that are 10,000 times smaller than the width of human hair. They are made on the floor of a huge, ultraclein factory house which can be Seven storeys long and four football fields in length.

Microchips are the lifeblood of the modern economy in many ways. They power the scores of computers, smartphones, cars, appliances and other electronics. But since the epidemic, global demand for them has increased, disrupting supply chains, leading to global shortages.

This, in turn, fuels inflation and raises the alarm that the United States is becoming too dependent on chips made abroad. The United States is responsible for only 12 percent of global semiconductor production capacity; More than 90 percent of the most advanced chips come from Taiwan.

Intel, a Silicon Valley titan seeking to regain its long-standing lead in chip manufacturing technology, is making 20 billion bets that could help reduce the chip deficit. It is building two factories in its chip-making complex in Chandler, Ariz., Which will take three years to complete, and recently announced plans for a major expansion with new sites in New Albany, Ohio and Magdeburg, Germany.

Why is it that millions of these tiny components make the building – and the cost – so big? A look inside Chandler and Hillsboro, the Intel production plant, provides some answers.

Chips, or integrated circuits, began to replace huge individual transistors in the late 1950s. Many of these tiny components are produced in a portion of silicon and are attached to work together. As a result, chips store data, amplify radio signals, and perform other activities; Intel is famous for its variety of microprocessors, which perform most of the computational functions of computers.

Intel has managed to compress transistors in mind-bending shapes in its microprocessors. But rival Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturing companies could make even smaller components, a key reason Apple chose to make the chip for its latest iPhones.

Such a victory for a Taiwan-based company, an island that China claims to be its own, adds to the signs of a growing technological gap that advances in computing, consumer devices and military hardware could jeopardize both China’s ambitions and Taiwan’s natural threat. As earthquakes and droughts. And it has put a spotlight on Intel’s efforts to restore technology leadership.

Chip makers are packing more and more transistors into each piece of silicon, which is why technology makes more and more every year. This is because the cost of new chip factories is billions and less companies can make them.

In addition to paying for buildings and equipment, companies will have to spend heavily to develop the complex processing steps used to make chips from plate-sized silicon wafers – which is why factories are called “fabs”.

The giant machine projects the design for the chips across each wafer and then collects and engraves layers of material to make their transistors and attach them. Up to 25 wafers are moved simultaneously between these systems in special pads on automatic overhead tracks.

It takes thousands of steps and up to two months to process a wafer. TSMC has set the speed of output in recent years, operating “gigafabs” sites with four or more production lines. Dan Hutcheson, vice chairman of market research firm TechInsights, estimates that each site can process more than 100,000 wafers a month. He puts Intel’s two planned $ 10 billion facility in Arizona at about 40,000 wafers per month.

After processing, the wafer is cut into individual chips. They are tested and wrapped in plastic packages to connect them to circuit boards or system parts.

The move has become a new battleground, as it is more difficult to make transistors smaller. Companies are now stacking multiple chips or putting them side by side in one package, attaching them to act as a single piece of silicone.

While packaging a handful of chips is now routine, Intel has developed an advanced product that uses the new technology to make a significant 47 unique chips, some of which are manufactured by TSMC and other companies, as well as Intel fabs.

Intel chips usually sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars. Intel unveiled its fastest microprocessor for desktop computers in March, for example, at a starting price of $ 739. An invisible piece of dust in a human eye can ruin a person. So the fabs need to be cleaner than the hospital operating room and require complex systems to filter the air and control the temperature and humidity.

Fabs must be impervious to any vibration, which can cause expensive equipment to malfunction. So fab clean rooms are built on huge concrete slabs on special shock absorbers.

Also important is the ability to move large amounts of liquids and gases. At the top level of Intel’s factories, about 70 feet long, there are huge fans to help circulate air in the clean room directly below. Beneath the clean room are thousands of pumps, transformers, power cabinets, utility pipes and chillers that connect to the production machine.

Fabs water-intensive operation. This is because water is needed to clean the wafers at many stages of the production process.

Intel’s two sites in Chandler collect about 11 million gallons of water per day from local utilities. Intel’s future expansion will require much more, a seemingly challenging challenge for drought-stricken states like Arizona, which has reduced water allocations for farmers. But farming actually consumes a lot more water than a chip tree.

Intel says its Chandler sites, which depend on the supply of three rivers and a well, use about 82 percent of fresh water through filtration systems, ponds and other equipment. That water is sent back to the city, which manages treatment facilities that Intel finances and redistributes for irrigation and other non-potable uses.

Intel hopes to help increase water supply in Arizona and other states by 2030, working with environmental groups and others on projects that conserve and restore water for the local community.

To build its future factory, Intel will need about 5,000 skilled construction workers for three years.

They have a lot to do. Dan Doron, Intel’s head of construction, said the excavation of the foundation is expected to remove 890,000 cubic yards of garbage at a dump truck rate per minute.

The company expects to use more than 445,000 cubic yards of concrete and 100,000 tons of reinforced steel for foundations – more than the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Some cranes are so large for construction that more than 100 trucks are needed to assemble them, Mr. Doran said. Cranes for new fabs will lift 55-ton chillers, among other things.

Patrick Gelsinger, who became Intel’s chief executive a year ago, is lobbying Congress for grants to build fabs and tax credits for equipment investments. To manage Intel’s cost risk, he plans to focus on building a fab “shell” that can be equipped with tools to respond to market changes.

To address the shortage of chips, Mr. Gelsinger needs to come up with a plan to make chips designed by other companies. But a single company can do just that; Products like phones and cars require many supplier components as well as old chips No other country can stand alone in semiconductors. While increasing domestic production may reduce supply risks somewhat, the chip industry will continue to rely on a complex global web of companies for raw materials, manufacturing equipment, design software, talent and specialized production.

Produced by Alana Sally

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