Semiconductors make the modern world go round. These wafers of silicon make up the core of every computer and smartphone.
Turning the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust (after oxygen) into these chips is nothing less than a minor miracle. Every step in the process of transforming sand into semiconductor is a carefully orchestrated sequence of photolithographic etching and chemical processing. Semiconductor fabrication facilities are known as foundries, with much of the process taking place in an automated, hermetically sealed environment.
Semiconductor fabrication: a minor miracle
With semiconductors powering virtually all of modern computing, it goes without saying that there is plenty of money to be made in semiconductor fabrication. But the complexity of semiconductor fabrication also means that foundries are expensive to set up and operate. For example, an investment into a wafer fab can incur anything from US$1 billion to US$15 billion depending on the type of technologies and equipment required. This has led to the phenomenon of the ‘pure-play foundry’, which manufactures chips under contract for various companies, without designing the chip itself.
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