Well-connected semiconductor industry analyst David Schor recently tweeted the following with respect to chip giant Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) 10-nanometer chip manufacturing technology -- a technology that's supposed to be used to build the company's key products in 2019:
I hope I am wrong but I have good reasons to believe there won't be ANY 10nm volume this year at all. From what I heard, I really hope they have a "Champagne Lake" (made up name) lined up for 2019. They are going to need it.— David Schor (@david_schor) April 22, 2018
Everything is true here: https://t.co/C2lv6EgQMp
In a later tweet, Schor said that he doesn't expect Intel's first high-volume 10-nanometer-based product, known as Ice Lake, to launch during the first half of 2019, due presumably to the troubles Intel is facing with 10-nanometer technology.
If Schor is right, then this could be a disastrous development for Intel's business. Here's why.
Why can't Intel solve the issues?
For some context, Intel's 10-nanometer manufacturing technology was supposed to go into volume production by the end of 2015 for product launches in 2016. However, it has been delayed many times. Intel had previously committed to a high-volume product ramp in the second half of 2017, but that schedule slipped, and Intel's most recent publicly announced schedule is a production ramp in the second half of 2018.
If Schor is right and Intel can't start the production ramp this year, then the ramp will, at best, be pushed out to sometime in the first half of 2019 (meaning product shipments in the second half of the year), and at worst, even later than that.
With all of the extra time that Intel has had to get this technology into mass production, it's highly concerning that the company is still apparently having severe issues with it. More to the point, it leads me to wonder whether the technology is so fundamentally broken that it just simply cannot be fixed.
Big trouble if it can't be fixed
If Intel's 10-nanometer technology simply can't be fixed -- something that's looking increasingly likely -- then that could have massively negative repercussions on Intel's business.
The company has multiple generations of products across all of its core businesses planned to be manufactured using 10 nanometer and its various derivatives (Intel plans for three iterations of 10 nanometer -- 10nm, 10nm+, and 10nm++). If the technology isn't ready to go to support the manufacturing of these products, then the company could very well not have anything new to sell until it can either fix 10 nanometer or find another backup plan.
Not only do Intel's 10-nanometer issues create uncertainty for Intel, but for all of the partners that Intel supports. Remember that it's the largest vendor of personal computer and data center processors in the world -- there will be a lot of unhappy customers if Intel can't deliver.
Those unhappy customers would then likely be more eager than ever to work with alternative suppliers going forward, potentially leading to significant (and sustained) market share losses on Intel's part.
In other words, a lot is riding on Intel getting its 10-nanometer technology into good enough shape that it can support the company's product ambitions. The continued uncertainty around this is something that, as an Intel stockholder, gives me serious pause.
On the company's earnings conference call slated for April 26, Intel needs to be open and transparent with stockholders about the current state of its 10-nanometer technology and how it plans to cope with the issues to ensure that it has new products to sell next year.