The US government keeps a very short list of foundries it trusts to make semiconductors for high-security applications. For years the leading entry was IBM, and then Global Foundries, but GF is stepping back from cutting-edge processes leaving the door ajar, and TSMC has come knocking.
The list is maintained by the Defense Microelectronics Activity (DMEA) which was set up but the US Department of Defense to ensure that all branches of national defense have access to trusted electronic components. The list of “Accredited Suppliers” species from whom customers may request a “Trusted Product Flow”, including the production of secured semiconductors.
For many years the top name on that list was IBM, and when IBM sold its microelectronics division to Global Foundries the responsibility went with it. Global Foundries isn’t the only foundry on the list; suppliers with trusted locations include Qorvo and On Semiconductor, as well as the military specialists one would expect to see (Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, et al), but Global Foundries was the best hope for applications going below 14nm.
However, with Global Foundries putting 7nm on hold indefinitely the DMEA is going to have to find another partner to support the smallest processes, which his where TSMC seems keen to get in involved. TSMC’s recently announced partnership with Purdue university, to collaborate on research for secured microelectronic ecosystem, seems to be a step in filling the vacuum. The use of SelectUSA, and a public endorsement from U.S secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross, certainly paves the way towards a closer relationship with the US government.
And that may be a significant too. TSMC is a key supplier to HiSilicon, and thus Huawei. While US companies are barred from dealing with Huawei without special permission, TSMC is Taiwanese and is happy to take Chinese money. Shutting off access to TSMC would hurt Huawei enormously, and it’s perfectly conceivable that the US government will apply pressure to achieve that. Making friends with the US government, and US universities, therefore makes sense as a preemptive move against future disruption, and if the DMEA decides TSMC is to be trusted to supply the US military then that comes as a bonus.
TSMC is world’s leading semiconductor foundry and latest updates on TSMC can be found in my colleague Sam Wang’s research, “Forecast Analysis: Semiconductor Foundry Services, Worldwide”.
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