Digitimes reports that TSMC CEO CC Wei told onlookers that commercial production of chips built using the company's 7-nm fabrication process has begun at a recent technology symposium. The leader of the Taiwanese foundry says an improved 7-nm node with EUV will come before the end of 2018, and it anticipates a move to a 5-nm fabrication node at the end of 2019 or in early 2020. The CEO said TSMC's newest plant, Fab 18 in Taiwan Science Park, will also be the tip of the spear for 3-nm production at some undetermined point in the future, according to Digitimes.
The outlet says that Wei's comments were likely an attempt to counter rumors that the company was experiencing teething trouble with its 7-nm process tech. The leader said the beginning of 7-nm production would increase the company's total output of 12" silicon wafers by 9% to 12 million units in 2018. Digitimes quotes Wei as stating that TSMC would tape out at least 50 7-nm designs before the end of the year, highlighted by chips for AI, graphics, and cryptocurrency applications. Some of the 7-nm silicon is also intended for 5G wireless services and ASICs.
Digitimes believes Apple orders of A12 SoCs for its iOS-powered devices will be a "major driver" of 7-nm production, according to its sources. The outlet says TSMC also has orders from graphics outfits AMD and Nvidia, plus smartphone SoC designer Qualcomm and crypto player Bitmain.
Wei reportedly said the company could spend as much as NT$700 billion (about $24 billion USD) in the future transition from 7-nm to 5-nm technology, with 5-nm risk production scheduled to start in early 2020. Morris Chang, the retired chairman of TSMC, said the lion's share of that cash—NT$500 billion, or about $16.5 billion USD—would be spent at Fab 18, the manufacturer's newest facility for 12" silicon wafer production.
TSMC's aggressive schedule for node shrinks comes as Intel's seemingly-insurmountable lead in silicon production technology appears to be eroding. The blue team has famously stumbled with its 10-nm node, a problem that could potentially affect its timeline for subsequent introductions in process tech. GlobalFoundries hasn't given a date for the start of volume 7-nm manufacturing, but the company was confident enough in its progress to give our own Jeff Kampman a tour of its Fab 8 facility and its extensive EUV investment earlier this year.