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Navigating the Global Semiconductor Supply Chain

Understanding the global semiconductor supply chain and exploring the complex journey of chips powering our world.


The world runs on semiconductors, those intricate chips that are the brains behind today’s modern devices

But their journey from blueprint to your pocket is anything but simple. This complex process relies on a meticulously managed global semiconductor supply chain that transforms raw materials into cutting-edge technology. 

From design to distribution, reliable logistics services are the foundation of this complex operation. Unlike traditional supply chains where components are readily available, semiconductors require precision, speed and global collaboration throughout their intricate supply chains.

This post will provide a better understanding of the unique aspects of the global semiconductor supply chain, exploring the various stages and the critical role of logistics in making it all work.


The Different Phases

The journey of a semiconductor, from raw materials to the finished devices we use, unfolds through four key phases.

Phase 1: Manufacturing (front end): This stage lays the groundwork. Integrated Device Manufacturers (IDMs) translate designs into blueprints for the chip’s functionality. Foundries then leverage high-tech equipment to create the foundationsilicon wafers. These wafers undergo a series of complex processes like photolithography, which etches patterns onto the silicon surface, forming the individual transistors that make up the chip. This process transforms the wafers into circuits that power modern technology.

Phase 2: Manufacturing (back end): Once manufactured, the individual chips are assembled into packages, transforming them into essential components that power our devices. Here, logistics becomes especially critical. The chips are carefully transported to specialized facilities known as Outsourced Semiconductor Assemble and Test (OSAT) facilities. Think of them as quality control checkpoints for chips. At the OSAT facilitates, each chip goes through rigorous testing to meet strict performance standards.

Phase 3: End Product Integration: Following successful testing and packaging, chips move on to become integrated components within devices. This phase involves: 

  • Collaboration: Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) or designers, partner with Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) providers, or assemblers to integrate chips into devices. 
  • Logistics: Just-in-time delivery (JIT) inventory keeps materials flowing smoothly to minimize storage costs and delays. 
  • Final Checks: Integrated devices undergo rigorous testing to ensure they meet performance and safety standards before reaching consumers.

Phase 4: Consumption and Aftermarket Support 

This final phase focuses on getting the finished devices containing the semiconductors into the hands of consumers and businesses. Here’s a short breakdown: 

Delivery to End Users: Semiconductor-powered devices reach consumers through various channels. Efficient logistics are critical for ensuring timely delivery and product availability. This can involve a combination of international air and ocean shipping, with expedited options to support product launches and seasonal volume spikes. Additionally, outbound warehousing strategically located near major markets helps reduce delivery times and provides buffer stock for fluctuating demand.

If you’d like a clearer picture of how a semiconductor journeys from blueprint to your pocket, explore our infographic.


A Breakdown

Journey of Semiconductor Components

Before chip production kicks off, foundries need the specialized tools to manufacture those chips. This step involves sending massive and fragile capital equipment from manufacturers to foundries around the world.

Specialized Shipping Solutions

Due to the high value and sensitivity of this equipment, specialized shipping solutions are required to ensure safe and timely delivery. This often involves:

Direct Airfreight: Speed is crucial. Airfreight is the only viable option to get this equipment to foundries quickly. To minimize the risk of damage from handling, direct flights with no transfers are preferred whenever possible. Securing space on these flights often requires partnering with freight forwarders who have strong relationships with major airlines, especially in destination countries. 

Experienced Freight Forwarders: Partnering with companies who specialize in semiconductor logistics is essential. They have the expertise to navigate complex regulations, ensure proper crating and handling of equipment, and address the sensitive nature of these high-value components.

Before chip production kicks off, foundries need the specialized tools to manufacture those chips. This step involves sending massive and fragile capital equipment from manufacturers to foundries around the world.

Strict handling procedures

Safety is essential throughout the entire shipping process. Here are some of the measures taken:

Specialized Crating: The equipment is carefully crated to withstand the rigors of air travel, protecting it from shock, vibration, and dust.

In-Flight Shipment Integrity: Shipping crates are meticulously monitored during transport for any sudden movement that could damage the equipment. This includes: 

  • Shock Watches: These devices detect and record any impacts that could harm the equipment’s performance. 
  • Tip-Tell Indicators: These indicators reveal if the crate has tilted beyond a safe angle during transport. 

Precision Delivery: Once it arrives, the equipment is carefully offloaded and transported to the foundry cleanroom for installation.

Cargo handeling


Navigating Regulations and Challenges

This section tackles the often-overlooked complexities of regulations in semiconductor shipping. Understanding these rules is crucial for souring secure, compliant, and efficient transport of critical materials.

Shipping Dangerous Goods by Air

The high-tech world relies on the smooth operation of the semiconductor supply chain. But this efficiency can be disrupted by the specialized requirements for shipping certain materials. As we saw in the previous section, even essential capital equipment deliveries can face unforeseen challenges.

Shipping certain materials critical to semiconductor production can be even more complex. These materials, often classified as dangerous goods (DG) due to their hazardous properties, require additional regulations, handling procedures, and specialized packaging. Examples of these materials might include: 

  • Corrosive chemicals are used in the etching process, which need specific packaging and handling procedures to prevent damage.  
  • Flammable solvents used for cleaning, that require strict adherence to safety regulations to avoid fires or explosions. 
  • Gases essential for specific chip manufacturing steps, where even minor contamination can render an entire batch unusable. These gases often have strict temperature control requirements for proper transport.  


The Complexities of Regulations

While airfreight remains the preferred method for these materials due to the need for speed and efficiency, strict regulations by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) govern their transport to ensure the safety. These regulations cover everything from proper classification and packaging to labeling and documentation. Experienced freight forwarders play a vital role in navigating this complex regulatory landscape.

Consider a situation where a leading semiconductor manufacturer needed to ship a temperature-sensitive material (-18C) classified as DG across a disrupted supply chain due to the pandemic. This scenario highlights the importance of a logistics partner with the expertise to develop creative solutions, such as: 

  • Multi-leg routing with strategic repackaging: Optimizing the journey with intermediate stops for temperature control measures like dry ice replenishment. 
  • Collaboration with customs authorities: Proactive steps to ensure smooth import clearance and minimize delays. 
  • Chartering flights when necessary: Utilizing chartered airfreight to overcome limitations in standard routes during disruptions.

By implementing such solutions, experienced logistics providers can ensure the safe, timely and compliant transport of critical materials, even under challenging circumstances.


Shipping Sensitive Chips and Electronics Equipment

Moving chips and finished electronics requires a delicate balance. Speed is critical, for sure, but ensuring their safe and secure transport is more important. Here are key strategies to help you navigate the complexities of shipping this equipment – and do things smarter.

Packaging and shipment Preparation

Standard packaging is a recipe for disaster with delicate semiconductors. They’re vulnerable to shock, static, and temperature changes during shipping. Here’s how to ensure their safe arrival:  

Invest in superior protection: Dutch standard boxes and utilize anti-static materials throughout the process.  

Leverage expertise: Partner with your shipping provider. Their knowledge can be invaluable in securing your shipment with corner protectors and multi-layer shrink wrap.  

Pallet like a pro: When it comes to palletizing your semiconductors, prioritize stability and security. Here are some key tips: 

  • Ensure both cartons and pallets are free of damage and the pallet can support the weight. 
  • Utilize the interlocking stacking method to minimize movement and compression during transport. 
  • Once stacked, securely wrap the entire pallet with heavy-duty shrink wrap. Consider adding corner protectors for additional reinforcement. 

By following these steps and potentially partnering with a logistics expert for high-value shipments, you can significantly reduce the risk of damage during transport and ensure your semiconductors reach their destination in perfect working order. For a deeper dive into streamlining your electronics logistics, check out our eBook on “8 Ways to Streamline Global Logistics for Electronics Products.” 


Shipping Semiconductor Spare Parts

The consequences of downtime in semiconductor manufacturing are severe. Picture this: a single machine breaks down during the process of making computer chips (wafer fabrication). This can halt production and lead to tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue. This shows just how important it is to have a reliable and efficient system for managing spare parts for semiconductor manufacturing.

Unlike spare parts in other industries, semiconductor parts present a distinct logistical challenge due to their ultra-sensitive nature. This lies in their vulnerability to shock, vibration, and temperature fluctuations during transit. Even minor bumps or slight changes in temperature can render them unusable. Specialized packaging, shock sensors, and real-time monitoring (with phone alerts) are crucial safeguards to ensure safe delivery.


Best Practices for Effective Management

Here are some key strategies for managing semiconductor spare parts logistics: 

Advanced Inventory Management: Utilize accurate forecasting and historical data to predict demand and maintain centralized inventory control across the global semiconductor supply chain. This ensures you have the right parts on hand when needed. 

Strategic Stocking Locations: Develop a network of stocking locations based on service level agreements (SLAs). Faster turnaround times require parts closer to production facilities, while next-day delivery allows for centralized locations near airports. 

Global Air Freight Expertise: Semiconductor spare parts play a critical role in ensuring the smooth operation of your production lines. When a crucial component fails, delays in acquiring a replacement can result in significant downtime and lost revenue. This is where a global air freight forwarder with proven capabilities in time-critical air freight and international customs clearance becomes your essential partner. 


A Real World Example

Imagine this: It’s 4:00 PM on New Year’s Eve, and a major gas station chain in Puerto Rico faces a crisis. A faulty electrical part has brought their entire operation to a halt, jeopardizing hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue during the busy holiday weekend. Time is of the essence. 

Fortunately, they had partnered with a reliable global air freight forwarder known for its “at any time, to anywhere” service. The local office sprang into action. They hand-carried the critical spare part directly from Phoenix, Arizona to San Juan, ensuring delivery by 7:00 AM the next morning. This swift and efficient response minimized downtime and saved the gas station chain significant revenue. 

24/7 Domestic Expedited Services: Ensure your domestic transport partners offer 24/7 service for urgent shipments. This minimizes downtime waiting for critical parts.

For a comprehensive exploration of all best practices in semiconductor spare parts logistics, refer to the full article: Best Practices: Semiconductor Spare Parts Logistics.

By implementing these best practices, you can achieve a well-optimized semiconductor spare parts logistics system within the global semiconductor supply chain.


Taiwan’s Strategic Role

Earning the title of “The Silicon Valley of Asia”, Taiwan holds a dominant position in the global semiconductor supply chain, producing over 60% of the world’s chips. It contains state-of-the-art facilities throughout the country, handling various stages of production, including fabrication, assembly, packaging and testing.

Taiwan’s dominance is fueled by the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest chip manufacturer. 
Taiwan’s exceptional competence in managing complex shipping and logistics is crucial for the smooth flow of the global semiconductor supply chain. Given its strategic role, any disruptions in this highly specialized chain can have significant ripple effects across various industries worldwide. 



Shipping from Taiwan to the US 

Taiwan and the US are long-time global trade partners, with semiconductors being the major export. To ensure smooth and efficient delivery, several factors must be considered when shipping chips from Taiwan to the US. 

Air Freight: This is the preferred option for time-sensitive shipments. Major airlines like China Airlines and EVA Airlines offer regular flights between Taiwan and major US destinations. 

Ocean Freight: A more cost-effective option for less urgent shipments. Several ocean liners, including Taiwan’s Evergreen and Yang Ming, offer routes to major US ports. 

Customs Clearance: Working with a freight forwarder experienced in US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regulations is crucial to ensure smooth customs clearance. Certifications like Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) in Taiwan and Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) in the US can expedite the process.


Multifaceted Strength in Semiconductors

Taiwan’s dominance goes beyond just chip manufacturing. It plays a critical role in the global semiconductor supply chain through several key strengths: 

Collaboration: Taiwan actively fosters partnerships with leading tech nations like the United States and Japan, ensuring smooth operations by facilitating knowledge sharing and development initiatives.  

Industry Partnerships: Taiwanese manufacturers supply top-tier chips to tech giants like Apple, Google, and Nvidia, enabling development of cutting-edge devices. 

Strategic Location: Situated in East Asia, Taiwan benefits from proximity to major tech hubs and manufacturing centers, facilitating efficient logistics. 

Advanced Infrastructure: Boasting modern ports and airports, Taiwan’s infrastructure seamlessly transports chips and other high-tech components.


Powering the Future: Taiwan’s role in semiconductors 

Semiconductors are the building blocks of modern technology, and a stable supply chain is crucial for continued innovation. Taiwan plays a vital role in this ecosystem, not just through manufacturing, but through collaborations, partnerships, and a commitment to a skilled workforce. 

To learn more about Taiwan’s multifaceted role in the global semiconductor supply chain, and how it’s shaping the future of technology, dive deeper into our comprehensive article: Taiwan’s Strategic Role in the Global Semiconductor Supply Chain.


Partnering for Semiconductor Success

The invisible threads of the global semiconductor supply chain weave their way into every aspect of our modern lives. By understanding its complexities, we gain a deeper appreciation for the efforts that bring these everyday wonders to life.   

In an industry with such specialized logistics requirements, there is a clear advantage to working with a global 3PL partner, like Dimerco, with deep experience in the semiconductor sector. Since 1971, Dimerco has served some of the world’s largest semiconductor companies. To navigate the complexities of the global semiconductor supply chain with confidence, contact a Dimerco semiconductor logistics specialist today to discuss your specific requirements.

Ready to navigate the complexities of the global semiconductor supply chain with confidence? Contact a Dimerco semiconductor logistics specialist today to discuss your specific requirements.