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Taiwan 'work culture' keeps chip manufacturing competitive: TSMC founder

03/16/2023 09:53 PM
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TSMC founder Morris Chang is seen at Thursday
TSMC founder Morris Chang is seen at Thursday's talk in Taipei. CNA photo March 16, 2023

Taipei, March 16 (CNA) Taiwan's "work culture" has made it more competitive than its rivals in semiconductor manufacturing, Morris Chang (張忠謀), founder of the world's largest contract chipmaker TSMC, said Thursday, referring specifically to the practice of foundry workers staying on call.

At a talk in Taipei that drew leading figures from both business and politics, Chang said the current centralization of chip production in Taiwan and neighboring Asian countries was driven by the so-called "work culture" in those countries.

"When a piece of equipment breaks down at one o'clock in the morning, in the U.S. it will be fixed at nine o'clock, [as] the guy [technician] will come into work at eight, maybe... In Taiwan, however, it'll be fixed at 2 a.m.," Chang said.

The comparison made by Chang, which was met by laughter from the audience, was intended to illustrate how Taiwan's foundry workers are accustomed to staying on call even if it is already way past their work shift.

A technician in Taiwan, Chang went on, will get up after receiving a call from work, and his wife, after learning that he is being called back, "will go back to sleep again, without saying another word."

That, according to Chang, is Taiwan's "competitive advantage," whereas the United States, on the other hand, excels at chip designing.

However, Chang's comments might not be as welcome as he imagines among Taiwanese workers, including TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.) engineers, according to media reports, who are known to work long hours and overtime.

According to the Ministry of Labor's 2021 data, Taiwanese workers worked an average of 2,021 hours in 2020, placing the country fourth on the list of countries with the longest work hours, after Singapore, Colombia, and Mexico.

Other advantages that countries like Taiwan and Japan have in terms of manufacturing chips include a vast talent pool and low employment turnover, Chang said.

Taiwan is equipped with "hard working and skilled" repair and maintenance technicians owing to the country's vocational school system, he said.

He went on to say U.S. semiconductor company Texas Instruments (TI), where he worked for over two decades, in the 1980s discovered that its new fab in Japan had doubled the yield of an older fab in Houston.

The company later attributed the higher productivity in Japan to lower turnover among machine operators, he said, adding that the turnover rate was 3-4 percent in Japan versus 15-20 percent in the U.S.

"In the U.S., we couldn't get anybody who was experienced at fixing the kind of precision machinery we used in chip manufacturing," he noted.

Chang, who retired in 2018, built Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. into a chip manufacturing powerhouse, and the company is now the world's largest contract chipmaker, with revenue of about NT$2.26 trillion (US$74 billion) in 2022.

American historian and "Chip War" author Chris Miller, who also attended Thursday's talk, attributed TSMC's success in part to Chang's foundry model, under which the company produces advanced chips designed by big tech companies.

According to Miller's book, which discusses the development of the chip company and its supply chains, as well as challenges facing the industry, currently nearly 90 percent of the world's most advanced processing chips are made in Taiwan, with TSMC taking the largest share.

(By Teng Pei-ju)


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