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Intel's Latest Hail Mary Is a $20-Billion Bet on American Manufacturing

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In March, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger announced a plan to spend $20 billion on new U.S. factories that could make chips for other semiconductor companies that want to outsource their production.

Credit: Ori Toor

The statement, conveyed as the third bullet point of a quarterly earnings release, was both mind-numbingly technical and inscrutably terse—almost to the point of meaninglessness for anyone who was not a professional investor or analyst. "Accelerating 10nm product transition," it read, "7nm product transition delayed versus prior expectations."

To those who do make a living scrutinizing financial releases, this was disastrous. It meant that Intel Corp. was struggling to produce its latest and greatest chips. The company had promised it would be manufacturing chips with transistors that have dimensions as small as 7 nanometers, or 7 billionths of a meter, with 2021 as the most recent deadline. The smaller the transistors, the more you can cram together, which makes for faster or more efficient processors. The delay meant that Intel would be stuck selling an older generation of chips for another year.

Intel has been a jewel of American manufacturing since the late 1960s, when Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore started the company in Mountain View, Calif., and in doing so helped create the modern chip industry and Silicon Valley itself. The company, now based in Santa Clara, has suffered delays in the past, but Intel's engineers have always ensured each setback was short-lived.

From Bloomberg Businessweek
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