SAN JOSE, Calif. -- I've attended TSMC's Technology Symposiums for many years.
Like past years, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) presented a dizzying array of technology and new processes at this year's event. It presented new roadmaps in CMOS processes, analog, MEMS, RF and other areas. Here were the surprises and my observations at the one-day event:
1. Morris Chang. Last year, Chang, 79, regained the CEO title at TSMC. He's running the ship amid a chaotic time in the IC industry. But during a keynote this week, Chang seemed as vibrant and feisty as he was when I first met him in the early 1990s. More importantly, he seems to have restored customer confidence after the company experienced a snafu at the 40-nm node. And with Chang at the helm, the company is far more aggressive in terms of capital spending, R&D and hiring. In fact, Chang said TSMC will expand its workforce from 25,000 today to 29,000 by year's end.
Simply put, TSMC is back on track--much to the chagrin of its rivals.
2. We want capacity! During the keynote, Chang on several occasions said that the company is expanding its fab capacity. Why? The company has been sold out of fab capacity for some time and customers are screaming for more capacity. But my feeling is that TSMC is still being careful about its capacity expansion plans.
Last year, margins were relatively lousy amid the IC downturn. This year, it is enjoying the boom cycle--and margins. So why spoil the party? On the other hand, TSMC has some new competitors--all of which would love to take same business away from the foundry king.
3. Nerves of steel. TSMC has always been a confident company. Almost too cocky. And a little arrogant at times, which is not a bad trait if you're the best in the business. In the past, though, it never really respected its competitors. I remember when it even dismissed IBM and Samsung.
To me, there is a new sense of uneasiness at TSMC: It is finally taking notice of the competition. In fact, there is a new sense of respect for the competitors at TSMC. GlobalFoundries has emerged and Samsung is finally serious about the foundry business.
In recent times, TSMC left its rivals in the dust. However, TSMC stumbled at the 40-nm node with lackluster yields. It was a humbling experience. Now, the company has some real competition. Let the battle begin.