How Samsung’s promises of cutting-edge tech won US semiconductor grants on par with TSMC

Posted on : 2024-04-16 16:55 KST Modified on : 2024-04-16 16:55 KST
Despite a lower dollar value of investments, the Korean firm promised state-of-the-art processes much quicker than its Taiwanese competitor
US President Joe Biden holds up a silicon wafer used in semiconductors as he speaks during the virtually held CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain Resilience on April 12, 2021. (AP/Yonhap News)
US President Joe Biden holds up a silicon wafer used in semiconductors as he speaks during the virtually held CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain Resilience on April 12, 2021. (AP/Yonhap News)

A veritable gift basket offered by Samsung Electronics to the US is seen as one of the factors behind the company’s ability to score large-scale subsidies there.

Samsung Electronics made pledges to establish a state-of-the-art process in the US ahead of the Taiwanese company TSMC and to establish a comprehensive local ecosystem that includes packaging and research and development functions.

In a press release Monday, the US Department of Commerce said the investments would “turn Samsung’s existing presence in Texas into a comprehensive ecosystem for the development and production of leading-edge chips in the United States.”

The reference to a “comprehensive ecosystem” was not included when subsidies for TSMC were announced. At US$40 billion, the investment from Samsung Electronics is smaller than the US$65 billion offered by TSMC — but the use of the phrase suggests a qualitative difference in terms of content.

To begin with, Samsung Electronics plans to establish state-of-the-art processes in the US with little lag time. The company plans to start mass production of 2 nm semiconductors at its South Korean semiconductor fabs next year and to introduce the process in 2016 at its fab in Taylor, Texas. In effect, there will be little time difference between the advanced technology’s introduction at home and in the US.

In contrast, TSMC plans to introduce its 2 nm process to the US in 2028, or around three years after its adoption in Taiwan.

In addition to its state-of-the-art fab, Samsung Electronics also pledged to build various other infrastructure in the US. This was another difference from TSMC, which only announced plans for existing fab expansions.

As a first step, Samsung Electronics plans to build advanced packaging facilities in Taylor — a feature not included in its original plan — and produce the high-bandwidth memory semiconductors used in artificial intelligence.

Packaging, which represents a back-end process for semiconductors, is an area where the US government has expended efforts to build its global market share, which currently stands at around 3%. In particular, it has noted the severe national security and supply chain risks posed when packaging does not take place within its own borders.

Other areas of emphasis included collaboration on security and R&D. The US Department of Commerce said that Samsung Electronics’ proposed investment “also includes commitments to collaborate with the US Department of Defense.”

The company plans to build an R&D fab in Taylor and collaborate with local industries and education institutions.

The Department of Commerce said this would be the first time in history that a foreign company builds an R&D fab in the US.

By Lee Jae-yeon, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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