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'Wasteful, expensive, futile': TSMC founder pulls no punches in US chipmaking critique

Iconic founder says his company was ‘extremely naive’ at its Oregon fab

Morris Chang.

Morris Chang. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Morris Chang (張忠謀), founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) on Tuesday (April 19) delivered another strong critique of the U.S. attempt to rebuild its semiconductor manufacturing base.

Chang did not mince words during a talk at the Brookings Institute, saying Washington’s push to grow domestic chip production will be "a wasteful, expensive exercise in futility." Chang said the critical shortage of manufacturing talent and prohibitively high costs pose insurmountable obstacles, according to a report by The Register.

He did not stop there though — Chang lamented TSMC’s own attempts over a quarter-century to lower costs at its plant in Oregon have failed.

"We were extremely naive," Chang said, "in expecting comparable costs, but manufacturing chips in the US is 50% more expensive than in Taiwan."

Although the plant is now profitable, he added, expansion plans have fallen by the wayside. Chang did give the U.S. credit where it was due though. He described its chip design talent as “the best in the world.”

“Taiwan has very little design talent,” he went on “and TSMC has absolutely none." Yet he maintains when it comes to actually manufacturing chips, the U.S. is just not built for it.

"There will be a high per-unit cost increase, and it will be hard for the US to compete internationally," he said.

TSMC is already sinking US$12 billion (NT$354.41 billion) into building a 5-nanometer fab in Arizona. That decision was not made by Chang (he stepped down as CEO in 2018), but that did not stop him from offering his two cents' worth on the matter:

"We did it at the urging of the US government ... and TSMC felt we should do it,” Chang said.