Chipmaker for iPhone 13 and MacBook Pros Hit by Gas Contamination

Chipmaker for iPhone 13 and MacBook Pros Hit by Gas Contamination
Photo: Sam Yeh/AFP

You might not know Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. off the top of your head, but you definitely use gadgets featuring their chips. In fact, it’s the sole semiconductor supplier for Apple’s various devices. Now, Nikkei Asia is reporting TSMC’s most advanced factory for Apple processors has been hit by gas contamination.

The impacted factory, Fab 18, produces the processors for Apple’s newest gadgets, including those for the iPhone 13 and rumoured redesigned MacBook Pros. The timing isn’t great, as right about now is when Apple and its partners gear up for mass production ahead of its annual iPhone launch event.

“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,” the company told both Nikkei Asia and Reuters. The company also noted it was carrying out follow-up operations to ensure production quality won’t be impacted. The good news is TSMC says it currently doesn’t believe this will have a major influence on operations.

The news is a tad unsettling considering we’re currently in the midst of a global chip shortage. While President Joe Biden has promised to address the issue, semiconductor companies — including TMSC — have warned that this could last through the entirety of 2022 and Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger recently said he believes the shortage will get worse in the second half of this year. Gelsinger also hinted that it could very well be a year or even two years before things return to normal.

So far, Apple has been relatively unscathed by the chip shortage compared to other device makers but it appears that luck may finally be running out. In an earnings call earlier this week, CEO Tim Cook warned that iPhone and iPad sales would be affected by “supply constraints” for silicon. While the company didn’t go into how the shortage might impact iPhone sales, Apple CFO Luca Maestri said it expects the shortages will be “greater than what we experienced during the June quarter.”

However, Cook also clarified that the majority of the shortages weren’t related to Apple Silicon. Instead, the problem lies with “legacy nodes” and greater demand for Apple products than initially anticipated. Given these concerns, you can imagine why even minor gas contamination at the plant producing the new M1, M1X, or M2 chips might rattle nerves.

Last year, supply chain constraints stemming from the pandemic led to Apple divvying up its spring product launches into three separate events spanning from September to November. This year, all indications seem to point to one event. So long as this gas contamination incident truly isn’t that big of a deal, that’ll hopefully still hold true.