Samsung, NXP, Infineon halt chip production at Austin plants due to power outages

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Samsung will reveal the Galaxy S21 lineup on January 14.

By now, the winter storm hitting Texas has made headlines nationwide. As the state continues to suffer through an unprecedented amount of snowfall, ice, and low temperatures, life has been put on hold for the most part.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Austin-American Statesman reported that production at Samsung’s semiconductor plant in Austin has been temporarily halted due to a power outage.

Samsung isn’t the only chipmaker to feel the effects of the regional power outages. Both NXP and Infineon have also had their manufacturing facilities in the area temporarily shut down.

The halt in production could amount to multi-million-dollar losses for the three companies. Although it isn’t expected to be a long-term issue, it’s unclear when power will be restored as the Texas energy grid struggles to keep up.

Ordered Shutdown

Semiconductor manufacturing is an extremely delicate process. Even one problem along a production line can result in massive damages and financial losses. Samsung experienced that firsthand in 2018 when a surprise 30-minute shutdown of a South Korean plant damaged tens of thousands of wafers. That was equivalent to 11 percent of its NAND flash output for the month.

Fortunately, this scenario doesn’t appear to be as serious. According to the Statesman, Samsung had advanced warning before its plant was shut down. In a statement, the company said, “With prior notice, appropriate measures have safely been taken for the facilities and wafers in production. We will resume production as soon as power is restored.”

At this point, it remains unclear if NXP and Infineon are in the same position. Since there was some advanced warning to the shutdown, it’s likely that both of the other chipmakers were able to safely halt their operations without damaging their materials. However, any sort of disruption can be disastrous in the semiconductor world. Without additional confirmation, it’s impossible to know for sure.

It is also unclear if Apple, which has a plant of its own in Austin, has been affected. The company produces its Mac Pro in the area.

Group Effort

It’s worth noting that the shutdown isn’t necessarily due to a complete power failure. Austin Energy reportedly asked its largest customers to temporarily shut down in order to help preserve power for residential customers and emergency services in the area. Given the very low temperatures accompanying the winter storm, many Texas residents have been huddled indoors trying to keep warm without power.

As many as 200,000 homes in Austin alone were affected by the outage. At the time of this writing, many of those homes have been without power for more than 48 hours.

The energy provider reportedly asked customers to try and conserve power first. However, as the energy grid was impacted by the winter storm, the company was forced to order them to shut down.

Austin Energy general manager Jackie Sargent told the Statesman, “That’s [shutting down] not necessarily something that’s easy to do. So we really appreciate them for assisting in this in these extreme circumstances.”

It will be interesting to see what the ramifications of these temporary shutdowns will be in the coming days once the Texan power grid recovers.

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