TSMC steps up its own 7nm efforts as Samsung secures orders for Apple A12 chips

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) has been exclusively fabricating Apple’s in-house designed mobile chips for iOS devices since 2015 and the company has now reportedly accelerated its efforts to build seven-nanometer chips in 2018.

This would give TSMC enough time to prepare volume production of the Apple A12 chips for iPhones and iPads to be released in the fall of 2018.

Apple was previously identified as a prospective customer for or TSMC’s seven-nanometer process. The new iPad Pro’s A10X Fusion chip is being built on TSMC’s ten-nanometer process.

TSMC has reportedly begun expanding the number of suppliers of equipment for its seven-nanometer process technology, according to trade publication DigiTimes, presumably to secure orders for Apple’s upcoming A12 chips that will power 2018 iPhones and iPads.

Equipment suppliers Applied Materials, Lam Research, Tokyo Electron, Hitachi High Technologies and Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment are all being included in TSMC’s supplier list, with Tokyo Electron and Lam expected to receive most demand from TSMC.

TSMC projects that its first-generation seven-nanometer process technology, dubbed “N7“, will be ready for volume production in 2018. A second-generation seven-nanometer process, which will adopt extreme ultraviolet lithography technology, will arrive a year later, sources said.

The semiconductor foundry is accelerating its production plans in light of reports yesterday that rival Samsung Electronics is buying the most advanced chip manufacturing equipment in the world for volume production of even more power efficient seven-nanometer chips.

The report promoted watchers to speculate that Samsung could re-enter the iPhone chip supply chain in 2018. On the other hand, some observers noted that TSMC’s upcoming second-generation integrated fan-out (InFO) wafer-level packaging technology will make its own seven-nanomter process technology more competitive than Samsung’s.

“It is unlikely Samsung will be able to regain application processors orders for Apple’s iPhone,” DigiTimes speculated Thursday. It’s worth noting that Samsung has grabbed a percentage of Apple A9 chip orders for the new 9.7-inch iPads introduced earlier in 2017.