The semiconductor industry is the sector within the technology industry in which companies conceive, design, and manufacture semiconductors, a fundamental component of modern electronic devices such as cell phones, televisions, and computers. As the world has become more dependent on computers and electronics continue to enhance the capabilities of devices ranging from doorbells to motor vehicles, semiconductors have become increasingly important. The semiconductor field is dominated by a handful of countries, though the field is growing and expanding rapidly.
The tiny East Asian country of Taiwan, whose diplomatic status is disputed by China, is the world's undisputed leader in terms of raw semiconductor manufacturing. This is largely due to the work of a single company, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) which singlehandedly manufactures roughly 50% of the world's semiconductors. Unlike semiconductor manufacturers such as Samsung or Intel, which produce semiconductors for use in their own products, TSMC manufactures semiconductors for many other companies, including Apple, AMD, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and more. This is known as the foundry model of business.
South Korea's multinational Samsung Electronics corporation is one of the world's largest technology companies in terms of revenue as well as one of the largest single semiconductor-producing companies in the world. Samsung functions as both an Integrated Devices Manufacturer (IDM), making semiconductors for use in its own products, and also as a foundry, producing semiconductors for other companies. Semiconductors produced by Samsung and other companies (such as SK Hynix) in the country's 70+ fabrication plants are South Korea's largest export, and comprised 15% of the country's total exports in 2021.
One of the world's most technologically advanced countries, the island nation of Japan is home to more than 100 semiconductor fabrication plants, most of which are owned by Japanese, American, or Taiwanese firms. As in other leading semiconductor manufacturing nations, the Japanese government is working to expand the country's semiconductor manufacturing capabilities.
The United States possessed approximately 12% of the world's global chip manufacturing capacity as of 2021. This is a notably lower percentage of global capacity than the US enjoyed just a few decades previously (37% in 1990, for instance), before countries such as Taiwan and China ramped up their semiconductor production capabilities. Despite this decline, the semiconductor industry remains quite lucrative in the US. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), semiconductors exports added $62 billion (USD) to the US economy in 2021, more than any product other than refined oil, aircraft, crude oil, and natural gas. Many of these imported chips return to the US in the form of finished consumer electronics.
Although the US held just 12% of the world's total semiconductor manufacturing capacity in 2021, US-based companies held approximately 46.3 percent of the total semiconductor market share. This seeming discrepancy can be explained by both the dollar value of imported US semiconductors, outlined above, and the fact that many US-based companies own and operate semiconductor fabrication plants in other countries, such as Japan. In such cases, the manufacturing capacity is added to that country's capacity rather than the capacity of the US, but the profits typically count as part of the US economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a severe slowdown in the manufacture of semiconductors, as well as in the transport of both raw materials and finished semiconductors., triggering a worldwide shortage. In light of this complication, the US government is working to actively expand the country's domestic semiconductor manufacturing capabilities.
One of the world's primary manufacturing hubs, China is another country in the process of expanding its semiconductor manufacturing capacity. China is the world's largest market for semiconductors, thanks in part to its massive manufacturing sector. Nonetheless, the Chinese government has set out to expand the country's manufacturing capabilities to the point that China becomes self-reliant, producing the required amount of semiconductors domestically, with no need for imports. China is expected to produce up to 25% of the world's semiconductors by the year 2030.
Taiwan's semiconductors industry benefits greatly from a robust end-to-end semiconductor supply chain—which is to say that Taiwan is home to thousands of semiconductor-related companies, which can collectively handle every aspect of the semiconductor manufacturing process, from establishing the initial IP and designing the circuit to fabricating, manufacturing, and testing the final product. Moreover, Taiwan is home to many state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, some of which can produce semiconductors that cannot be manufactured anywhere else in the world.
These traits make the Taiwanese semiconductor industry an ideal choice for companies which require semiconductors for their products, but which lack the funding and/or desire to build their own fabrication plant, which could cost a billion $US or more. On the downside, Taiwan's notable success also means that if something goes wrong with semiconductor manufacturing in Taiwan, the entire world feels the impact.
In addition to Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, the United States, and China, countries with significant (and often growing) semiconductor manufacturing capability include Israel, the Netherlands, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. located in Taiwan produces 50% of the semiconductors used globally, making Taiwan the dominating country in the industry.