Chip Manufacturing - How Are Microchips Made | Infineon
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A computer chip is a compact form of electronic circuit, also characterized as an integrated circuit (IC), that is one of the basic units of most electronic equipment, particularly computers. These chips are also referred to as micro-chips. Computer chips are compact and made up of semiconductors, which include multiple tiny elements such as transistors and are used to send electrical data packets. They gained popularity in the latter part of the twentieth century owing to their tiny size, high efficiency, and ease of manufacture.
The silicon wafers or platforms that serve as the foundation of microchips are composed of silicon, while the metal wires used to connect the sections of circuitry are made of aluminum or copper. Silicon is a vastly occurring semiconductor, which means it transmits or insulates electricity, and typical beach sand has a large concentration of silicon.
Silicon is cleaned, made molten, and chilled into an ingot before being utilized to produce microchips. The ingots are then cut into 1-millimeter-thick wafers. These wafers are cleaned mirror-smooth before going through a sophisticated procedure to generate chips.
In 2019, researchers focused on carbon nanotubes for the fabrication of computer microchips as they offer major benefits in terms of energy consumption. Carbon nanotubes are nearly as slender as an atom. They also transport electrical charges substantially well. As a result, they produce superior semiconductor transistors as compared to silicon.
The advantageous 2D materials include graphene, graphene oxide, transition metal dichalcogenides, black phosphorus as well as hexagonal boron nitride, Mxenes, perovskites, and metal-organic frameworks. These materials have been used for thin films, microchips, field-effect transistors, micro-supercapacitors, and energy storage materials.
Also: An even greater share of the world's computer chips are designed domestically and made overseas by companies including Qualcomm, Apple, Broadcom and Nvidia. A bunch of the high-tech gear needed to produce chips is also designed and/or made in the U.S.
Some of the country's largest chip manufacturers are also some of the biggest in the world. Intel still produces much of its chip supply at home, as the Wall Street Journal reported. But other major US chip producers outsource manufacturing to companies in Asia due to costs. One of those foreign contract companies is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, which produces more than half of the world's computer chips and is also Apple's primary supplier.
President Joe Biden is aware of the issue and the threats posed by relying too heavily on foreign manufacturing. As part of Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan, there's a $50 billion allotment for domestic chip manufacturing incentives.
For the past year and a half, I have worked with Republicans and Democrats on a $52 billion plan to fund the CHIPS Act, which will boost American microchip manufacturing to bring our supply chains back to America.
That will position the United States to regain its leadership in manufacturing the microchips we rely on, and in designing the most advanced microchips to bring us into the future and protect our national security.
The chip shortage has shone a new spotlight on the state of US manufacturing and how much of it has moved out of the country. The US government isn't happy with how reliant the country's economy and military have become on Asian high-tech manufacturing, and China is spending big on its own chipmaking abilities.
Worst hit is the auto industry. Cars are now studded with computer chips that control everything from infotainment systems to antilock brakes, and the car-making industry has relied heavily on "just-in-time" purchasing that cuts costs but means there's no big inventory of parts to buffer against shortages. The situation has gutted their revenue by an estimated $210 billion in 2021, according to a study by AlixPartners, and auto manufacturing could suffer through 2023.
Gelsinger has urged automakers to shift their processors to newer manufacturing technology that, thanks to miniaturization, can squeeze more chips out of a single 300mm-wide silicon wafer. That's not an easy change, though, given that much of the auto industry selects and validates components that are used for years. It could help Intel's effort to become a foundry that builds others' chips, though, not just its own products.
The shortage also gave new power to lesser-known chipmakers still building chips with earlier-generation "legacy node" manufacturing technology. That includes ST Microelectronics, Onsemi, Microchip, NXP Semiconductors and Infineon. GlobalFoundries, the manufacturing division AMD spun off in 2018, held its initial public offering despite a lack of profitability and bowing out of the race to keep up with the three leading-edge chipmakers: Intel, Samsung and TSMC.
Companies that build semiconductor manufacturing tools are raking in the money. Globally, spending on chip equipment will rise 10% in 2022 to a record high of $98 billion, the third year of growth in a row, the trade group Semi said in January. South Korea is the biggest spender, followed by Taiwan and China, collectively accounting for an expected 73% of spending this year. Korean spending should increase 14% in 2022, but spending in the US and China likely will decrease, the group said.
Its push for technological sovereignty led the European Union to propose an 11 billion euro European Chips act that could be pooled with 4 billion euros in other spending and 30 billion in earlier commitments to help chip manufacturing in Europe. The goal is to increase Europe's share of chip manufacturing from 9% today to 20%.
"The pandemic has also painfully exposed the vulnerability of chips supply chains. ... We have seen that whole production lines came to a standstill, for example with cars," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in February. The European Chips Act's goals are to increase resilience that will insulate European manufacturing from supply chain disruptions and to "to make Europe an industrial leader in this very strategic market."
No way. The electronics industry is vastly larger than just making chips, including upstream supplies like wafers and manufacturing equipment and downstream activities like packaging, testing and assembly, most of it in Asia. "There's a lot of other aspects of the supply chain, and I believe those need to be more balanced as well," Gelsinger said.
Nearshoring, which would move manufacturing operations nearer to the US but not all the way, is another possibility, particularly for assembly, testing and other work not quite as high-tech as the chipmaking itself. "Mexico could be a strong option," CapGemini's Naik said.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology believes investments need to happen at the research level, not just with chipmakers. "The hollowing out of semiconductor manufacturing in the US is compromising our ability to innovate in this space and puts at risk our command of the next technological revolution. To ensure long-term leadership, leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing in the US must be prioritized and universities activities have to get closer to it," MIT said in a January report. It called for upgrades from 1990s-era technology that tiles chips onto silicon wafers 150mm in diameter to equipment with 200mm wafers that are newer if not cutting edge.
The first commercially available computer chip was the Intel 4004 microprocessor, released in 1971. It consisted of 2,300 transistors and was one of the first to use silicon gate technology, which made it possible to increase the circuit density fivefold compared to previous computer chips.
Naturally, the entire computer chip manufacturing process must occur in a clean room engineering space, since even the tiniest microscopic contaminants can immediately ruin the chips being produced. After all, the level of precision required is many orders of magnitude smaller than the human eye can perceive.
To encourage homegrown computer chip manufacturing in the U.S., create good-paying America jobs, and address supply chain vulnerabilities in these critical technologies, the CHIPS-Plus package allocates $52 billion for semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing. It authorizes federal workforce development funds to train more American workers in the in-demand skills needed to build semiconductor chips. And it includes language that would prevent companies that receive a share of the $52 billion in funding from using that money on stock buybacks or paying stock dividends to shareholders.
In a major win for the Biden administration, the House has passed bipartisan legislation aimed at supporting domestic manufacturing of semiconductor chips that power the nation's smartphones, cars, computers, medical equipment and weapons systems. The legislation already passed the Senate earlier this week by a vote of 64-33 and now heads to President Biden to sign into law.
"We used to make 40% of the world's chips, we make about 12% now," Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said during a virtual roundtable with Biden Monday afternoon. "The reality is, while we have invested nothing to spur domestic chip manufacturing, China has invested more than $150 billion to build their own domestic capacity. So we're very much behind."
TSMC currently does most of its manufacturing in Taiwan, which has raised questions from U.S. and European lawmakers about securing supply in the potential event of a Chinese invasion or other regional issues. Chip companies such as Nvidia and Apple design their own chips but outsource the manufacturing to companies like TSMC and Samsung Foundry.
The factories in Arizona will be partially subsidized by the U.S. government. Earlier this year, Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law, which includes billions of dollars in incentives for companies that build chip manufacturing capabilities on U.S. soil. 781b155fdc