Taiwan chip makers scramble for spare parts

No tubes, no chips

Taiwan's chip makers are working round-the-clock to repair damage from last Tuesday's earthquake, but many are now scrambling to locate vital spare parts. "I think the main problem now for all the companies in the Hsinchu science park, including TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.) and UMC (United Microelectronics Corp.) is getting replacements for the broken quartz tubes in the furnaces," said Winbond Electronics assistant vice president, Hander Chang yesterday. Power and water supplies to the park were functioning normally, Mr. Chang said. Winbond is a major manufacturer of DRAM and other chips. The hard-to-find tubes hold partially-completed silicon chips, in wafer form, inside furnaces. Quartz glass is one of the few materials that can withstand the high temperatures required to fix the surface layer of chips, while not releasing impurities; it is also extremely brittle. "They're looking for something like 400 to 500 sets, and I think there's only about 200 sets in Taiwan," said Andrew Lin of Jardine Fleming Securities in Taipei. Finding all the tubes needed might take two to three weeks, he estimated. In press statements, Taiwan's largest chip makers, TSMC and UMC said that a significant proportion of chip making equipment was functioning normally, 50 per cent at TSMC, and 90 per cent at UMC. It was not clear if these figures indicated production capacity, however. Industry sources said that a small proportion of damaged equipment was causing bottlenecks at most chip makers. UMC has allocated NT$300 million to replace damaged equipment, including quartz furnace tubes. The company estimates the quake will reduce its revenue approximately 25 percent this month. "I think about 30 to 40 percent of our production capacity has been recovered," said Celia Yang of DRAM maker, Powerchip Semiconductor. "We are waiting for the most important part, the quartz tube. Actually our senior vice president has gone to Japan to inquire about the supply." Powerchip has a private power supply, Yang said, allowing the company to commence repair work earlier than most of its competitors in Hsinchu. If Powerchip is able to quickly find all the spare parts it needs, production should be back to normal at the beginning of October, she predicted. ®

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