A gas contamination has hit one of the most important factories in Apple’s production line, according to a report from Nikkei Asia (opens in new tab).
The contamination reportedly occurred at TSMC’s “Fab 18” factory, which is said to be the company’s most advanced chip-making facility. As the sole provider of chips for Apple, problems for TSMC have the potential to affect millions of dollars’ worth of hardware.
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Indeed, Nikkei Asia’s sources revealed that all processors for upcoming Mac and iPhone devices are produced at the factory in question. That clearly means the as-yet-unannounced iPhone 13, but also likely covers laptops expected to feature the rumored Apple M2 and M1X chips, including, possibly, a MacBook Pro 2021.
“Some TSMC production lines in the South Taiwan Science Park received certain gases from suppliers that are believed to be contaminated,” TSMC told the site. “These were quickly replaced with other gas supplies.”
While the company said that assessments are underway to ensure product quality is unaffected, early signs suggest that it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on production. TSMC said that the contamination didn’t seem to have had a “significant impact on operations,” and Nikkei Asia’s unnamed sources seemed to confirm this, saying that chip production had only been hit in a limited way.
Anything worse could have been extremely bad news for Apple. The contamination was reportedly discovered on Thursday night, just a day after the company had warned investors about potential supply issues, due to the ongoing chip shortage affecting everything from PS5 restock to car production.
“We expect supply constraints during the September quarter to be greater than what we experienced during the June quarter,” Apple’s chief financial officer Luca Maestri warned investors (opens in new tab) during the Q3 2021 earnings call. “The constraints will primarily impact iPhone and iPad.”
Given he still predicted “very strong double digit year-over-year revenue growth during the September quarter,” this could just be a case of ensuring expectations don’t get out of control, leading to anything but phenomenal growth seeming disappointing.
So far, Apple has largely managed to avoid the worst effects of the global chip shortage. And even when warning about potential trouble along the way, CEO Tim Cook was keen to point out that supply constraints were largely on “legacy nodes” rather than Apple’s own silicon.
But the TSMC factory gas contamination story is a timely reminder that even having your own exclusive production line doesn’t make you immune to unexpected problems. Thankfully, it sounds like the issue is mild enough that it won’t impact the iPhone 13’s rumored September reveal, but it may just give Apple pause for thought on how reliant it seems to be on just one factory.