Samsung Foundry, Infineon Technologies, and NXP Semiconductors have not yet restarted operating their fabs in Austin, Texas, area as they need time to clean them up and configure them again. The idling fabs will further contribute to the ongoing global shortage of chips, which could affect the pricing of final products, such as SSDs.
Due to power outages caused by unprecedentedly cold weather and a winter storm, the Austin Energy power grid asked its biggest consumers, such as Samsung Foundry and other makers of semiconductors, to temporarily shut down their fabs in a bid to ensure that enough power was supplied to homes last month. While it is possible to briefly turn off a chip production facility, it is extremely hard to restart it.
“Chipmakers now have the power, water, and gas they need to operate, but they need time to restart tools and clean the factories,” said Edward Latson, CEO of the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, reports Reuters.
Samsung Foundry confirmed to Tom’s Hardware that its S2 fab has not yet resumed normal operations.
“While we are currently making efforts to resume operations as soon as possible, the process may require more time to reach normal levels as we inspect and reconfigure the facility,” a statement by the company reads. “Our primary focus is to ensure safety on-site for our workforce as well as for our community.”
Samsung Austin Semiconductor’s fab S2 makes advanced chips using the company’s 14LPP and 11LPP technologies on one production line and chips using mature (28nm – 65nm) nodes on other production lines. The facility makes various products for Samsung’s own LSI division, including its branded SSD controllers (using 14 nm – 40 nm nodes), automotive chips for Tesla and Renesas, and telecommunication chips for Qualcomm.
“I’ve never seen a fab turned on after an outage without hiccups,” Patrick Moorhead, head of the analyst firm Moor Insights and Strategy, told Austin American Statesman. “For example, if one molecule of water would find its way into the tools, it could completely halt production. A fab uses very particular gasses, liquids, and matter that is hard to store and put back after it has been brought out of storage,” Moorhead said.
Samsung LSI, Qualcomm, Tesla, and Renesas can order the production of their chips at other foundries, but there are several problems transferring manufacturing.
Firstly, it is hard to allocate capacity as most fabs are already at loads close to 100%, and far not all contract makers of chips are interested in short-term business. Secondly, prices of chip production are already high, and ‘tier-2 foundry prices for some processes are already on par with TSMC’s after their price hikes since late 2020,’ according to China Renaissance Securities.
Thirdly, packaging houses based in countries like Taiwan are currently experiencing ABF substrate shortages and cannot pack enough chips. DigiTimes reports that there are particular problems with SSD controller packaging, which could impact SSD supplies.
Since the fabs have been offline for well over a week now, the situation might get even grimmer for automakers that cannot replace semiconductors they use with any analogues. Meanwhile, without supplies of specialized chips, they cannot build cars.