TSMC and Purdue announced this agreement on Friday, 14th June at the SelectUSA conference held in Washington D.C. The Department of Commerce-led annual conference brings together U.S. government agencies and key sector organisations to encourage and facilitate investment in the U.S.
The planned centre will be located at Purdue University's West Lafayette campus in Indiana and, in collaboration with the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF), it will conduct research aimed at providing a secure ecosystem to produce microelectronics.
As chip sales are currently at an all-time high, particularly given that the global sales of semiconductors hit $468.8 billion in 2018 (as the Semiconductor Industry Association reports), representing an increase of over 13 per cent, this is perhaps a better time than ever for such a partnership to come to fruition.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. sign outside the TSMC facility. Image courtesy of TSMC.
Chip-level Security Concerns
This move should hardly come as a surprise to those of you who have been paying attention to recent events.
For a long time now, chip-level security has given rise to several woes and worries, particularly on the cyberespionage front, with the whole Huawei debacle being the most prominent example (for now).
Not only that, the continued growth of AI—an area where major developments are coming thick and fast—gives rise to lots of potential issues, too, such as the theft of data, ransomware and, perhaps one day, the ability for adversaries to take control of a device's chip.
Highlighting the importance of such focus on secure ecosystems for microelectronics, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said:
"Semiconductors will continue to be the enabling backbone for technological and economic growth in the 21st century, propelling advancements in IoT, autonomous transportation, AI, advanced manufacturing, and many other applications."
A Secure Ecosystem
The partnership between TSMC and Purdue may also put the U.S. ahead of China in their ongoing "competition" to dominate emerging tech, such as 5G and AI. It was only a few weeks ago when the U.S. Government banned U.S. semiconductor manufacturers from selling to the Chinese firm Huawei, the world's biggest telecoms company, due to an ongoing spat and "national security issues".
Purdue's West Lafayette campus already has a team of around 10 faculty members working with TSMC at varying levels of research. It’s expected to be fully operational by the start of the next academic year,
President of Purdue University, Mitch Daniels, stated:
“This agreement solidifies a vital global partnership for Purdue and enables our leading researchers to further advance their discoveries in microelectronics. TSMC’s commitment is only the beginning of what we believe will be an internationally significant initiative.”
The partnership also enables TSMC to facilitate access to multi-project wafer shuttle runs. This will allow them to test the effectiveness of any proposed research in the future.