Intel, TSMC Reportedly in Talks to Build New US Foundries

Intel’s D1X fab. Source: Intel

The Trump Administration is reportedly in talks with both Intel and TSMC to open new foundries in the United States. The discussions are part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to reduce the US semiconductor industry’s overall reliance on China as a source of manufactured goods.

Much of Intel’s manufacturing capability is already in the United States, but a new TSMC foundry would be that company’s first US installation. TSMC’s interest in building a US plant is supposedly related to its relationship with Apple. TSMC has confirmed that it is interested in building an overseas plant but has said nothing about the location. Intel, in contrast, has been more forthcoming.

“We’re very serious about this,” Greg Slater, Intel’s vice president of policy and technical affairs, told the Wall Street Journal. “We think it’s a good opportunity. The timing is better and the demand for this is greater than it has been in the past, even from the commercial side.”

That’s not a surprising attitude for Intel to take. The company has been capacity crunched for the last few years. Back in 2014, Intel made the decision to delay finishing Fab 42 in Chandler, Arizona. While this didn’t initially cause any problems, it would later compound the company’s manufacturing shortage from 2019 – 2020. Intel was unable to manufacture enough CPUs to meet 100 percent of market demand because its 10nm transition stalled out while demand for higher core-count 14nm CPUs jumped dramatically. Intel has restarted work on Fab 42, but demand for the company’s largest-core CPUs has been rising steadily.

The one thing that’s unclear from the WSJ article is whether this facility would be a foundry, specifically, or if it would also handle other parts of CPU manufacturing. There’s a great deal of talk about building US factories due to the fragility of Asian supply lines, but CPUs today are still often shipped to test and assembly facilities outside the United States. Bringing all of that work home requires more than just a foundry.

Inside a TSMC foundry facility.

A TSMC factory in the United States would arguably be the larger win for supply chain stability. Intel already has multiple factories in the US, and Samsung has a single facility in Austin. A major TSMC plant would give all three top-end foundry manufacturers a presence in the US. GlobalFoundries, while no longer a leading-edge provider, is already based in Malta, NY. TSMC is currently in the overall lead in terms of node progression, with Intel hoping to take the lead again by 5nm. Of course, having hardware built in the US for foreign companies (from the US’s perspective) would also give America more leverage over a company like TSMC in the event of a trade dispute.

Even if Intel or TSMC reach an agreement with the US government to build a new foundry, it’ll be a few years before the facility is up and running. Foundries typically require 3-5 years to build, at $10B-$20B per factory.

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