A TSMC chipmaking facility or ‘fab’ has been the victim of contamination of a gas used in the process of making Apple SoCs for Macs and iPhones, leading to worries over whether this could foreshadow a delay of the purportedly incoming revamped MacBook Pro models built around Apple’s own silicon – not to mention the iPhone 13.
The contamination occurred at ‘Fab 18’, which is TSMC’s most advanced chip manufacturing plant, as Nikkei Asia reports, and it’s where processors for future Macs and iPhones – presumably including the rumored redesigned MacBook Pros with the M1 successor chip, possibly called the M1X – are made.
Indeed, the report observes that Apple is readying components to start production on new Mac and iPhones by the close of August.
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TSMC told Nikkei: “Some TSMC production lines in the South Taiwan Science Park received certain gases from suppliers that are believed to be contaminated. These were quickly replaced with other gas supplies.”
TSMC said that the problem was in hand, and the chipmaker added that it was engaging in follow-up operations to ensure production quality off the lines is maintained. TSMC further said that it doesn’t expect that this will have a ‘significant impact’ on the flow of chips.
Analysis: Contamination clean-up is a really serious business
While this gas contamination incident appears to be in hand, the concern is that these kind of mishaps can have potentially major repercussions, and there’s plenty of chatter and speculation online about possible delays for Apple’s laptops and smartphones.
Chipmaking ‘fabs’ are extremely sensitive environments with huge precautions taken not to introduce even a sliver of a speck of contamination, so even what sounds like a relatively minor issue could be bad news. Note that TSMC only has an ‘expectation’ of this not causing any significant delay in terms of production schedules at this point, and there’s (unsurprisingly) no firm indication of exactly how extensive clean-up operations might have to be.
We should not jump to any conclusions, naturally, but it’s easy to see how this could cause some folks out there to worry over a potential MacBook Pro 2021 or iPhone 13 delay. Particularly when just before this happened, earlier this week, Apple came out and said that supply shortages had already hampered Mac and iPad sales, and that iPhones could suffer later in 2021, with perhaps the iPhone 13 launch negatively impacted. All of this, of course, is happening against a general background of component shortages.
Earlier this year, we were hopeful to see the overhauled MacBook Pro models arrive this summer, but the grapevine now points to a late 2021 launch, with production to start supposedly in Q3 (late August certainly fits with that speculation). Hopefully this rumored timeframe will still remain on track.
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