Taiwanese chip makers not rattled by quakes

Taiwanese chipmakers appear to have emerged unscathed from a series of strong earthquakes that struck Taiwan on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The first earthquake, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, struck northeastern Taiwan on Wednesday and was followed by a second quake, which registered 6.2 on the Richter scale that hit the island nation Thursday. Neither quake resulted in casualties, with the second tremor causing minor damage to buildings in Taipei, according to Taiwan’s official Central News Agency.

Thursday’s earthquake struck the cities of Taipei and Hsinchu, where most of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry is based, with much greater intensity and lasted longer, even though it ranked slightly lower on the Richter scale than Wednesday’s quake, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.

The severity of Thursday’s quake forced Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC), the island nation’s largest contract chip maker, to temporarily evacuate staff from its manufacturing facilities, said J.H. Tzeng, a spokesman for the company. The company did not evacuate staff from its fabs on Wednesday night, as that quake was less severe, he said.

TSMC has now begun to inspect its plants and chip-making equipment at its fabs for damage, Tzeng said, noting the company has so far not seen any impact on production from the quakes. If a disruption in production had been caused by the evacuation of staff or damaged equipment, shortfalls in output could be easily made up, as the utilization rate at TSMC’s fabs is “pretty low” right now, Tzeng said.

United Microelectronics Corp., Taiwan’s second largest contract chipmaker, did not suffer any damage from Wednesday’s quake and production at the company’s fabs was not affected, according to a company official who requested anonymity. In the aftermath of a major earthquake in 1999, UMC installed shock-dampening equipment and adjusted the layout of chip-making equipment at its fabs to minimize the risk of earthquake-related damage, the official said.

On September 21, 1999, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale that killed 2,400 people and destroyed 50,000 buildings rocked Taiwan. The 1999 quake also caused significant infrastructure damage that disrupted semiconductor and PC component shipments.

TSMC, in Hsinchu, Taiwan, can be reached at http://www.tsmc.com.tw/. United Microelectronics Corp., in Hsinchu, Taiwan, can be reached at http://www.umc.com/.