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Your next MacBook could be in short supply thanks to US skills shortage

The Apple M3 chip could be hit with delays after Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) announced this week that it was delaying the opening of its Arizona chip fabrication plant until 2025.

Citing the shortage of skilled workers needed to install the extremely technical equipment used in the manufacturing of chip wafers, TSMC is pushing back its planned opening of its first US chip manufacturing plant from 2024 into 2025. Construction on the plant began in 2021.

“We are encountering certain challenges, as there is an insufficient amount of skilled workers with the specialized expertise required for equipment installation in a semiconductor-grade facility,” TSMC Chairman Mark Liu said in Nikkei Asia. “We expect the production schedule of N4 process technology to be pushed out to 2025.”

N4 is TSMC’s 4nm process node, but Nikkei Asia reported last year that TSMC was also hoping to move some of its 3nm production to the Arizona plant. Apple is reportedly using the existing N3 (3nm) process line in Taiwan for its M3-series chips, as well as its A17 Bionic mobile chip. These have reportedly been hit by delays as TSMC has had issues with some of the wafers coming off the N3 line.

To help get the new Arizona plant online, TSMC is flying out trained technical staff and engineers from its Taiwanese plants to make up for the lack of trained and qualified personnel in the US.

TSMC still has an operational N3 process line in Taiwan, so Apple won’t be without any advanced process node to make its chips, but that does mean that until the Arizona plant opens, they will all have to rely on any available capacity at the Taiwanese plants.

Apple M3 won’t be pushed off to 2024, but MacBooks might be harder to get in 2024

Considering that Apple is one of TSMC’s biggest customers, it’s unlikely that the Arizona plant’s delay will hold up the entire M3 chip rollout, which many will expect will come later this year with a new Apple iMac. However, Nvidia is also putting demands on TSMC’s 3nm process for its RTX 5000-series GPUs, according to our friends at PC Gamer, so how much Apple will be able to scale its orders for 2024 isn’t clear.

Another key will be the refreshes of Apple MacBook Air and MacBook Pro devices, the former set to use an Apple M3 Chip while the latter will use a mix of M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max, depending on the size of the laptop.

With these refreshes likely in 2024 and early 2025, having another plant in the US churning out 3nm chips would definitely help the availability of these products at launch, something that Apple has struggled with in previous years when customers had to wait for weeks for the delivery of a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air that they had preordered.

With the Arizona plant initially scheduled to begin N4 production in late 2024, with N3 production at some point after that, these extra nodes might have helped speed up delivery times. Hopefully the outlook for TSMC’s first US plant in over 20 years improves in the months ahead, but it’s not looking good at the moment.

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