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Chip manufacturer TSMC reached a new milestone on Wednesday when it announced that it has already entered risk production for its 16nm FinFET Plus (16FF+) process.

TSMC will be conducting small-volume shipments of 16nm FinFET production this quarter. Earlier in the year TSMC suggested that it could enter trial production of its 16FinFET process by the end of 2014, with volume production beginning sometime in early 2015.

They only took about three-and-a-half quarters to migrate to this new geometry from 20nm in the first quarter of 2014. That’s a little bit faster than the industry average. – Carlos Peng, an analyst with Fubon Securities

Due to TSMC’s success with 20nm and 16nm manufacturing developments, the company recently unveiled a roadmap with ARM to take FinFET production all the way down to 10nm. Mobile chip developers, such as Apple and Qualcomm, are keen to move from the 20nm process to reap the benefits of smaller, more power efficient processors.

However, TSMC is facing tough competition from Samsung for 16nm business. AMD, Apple, and Qualcomm are all placing orders with Samsung for 16nm chips next year, despite Apple and Qualcomm purchasing 20nm chips exclusively from TSMC. The reason for this is that Samsung is expected to reach mass production of 16nm chips in Q3 2015, while TSMC’s own mass-production isn’t expected to start until Q4 2015. TSMC needs to remain on, or preferable ahead of schedule, if it wants to win back customers.

Samsung’s yield has been around 30-35 per cent since the beginning of this year. We haven’t seen any improvement. Apple and Qualcomm will shift more of their orders to TSMC if it can provide enough capacity.

Fortunately, TSMC isn’t just hedging its bets on smaller manufacturing techniques. The company also recently announced plans to prepare advanced foundries to produce integrated micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) sensors and actuators with complementary CMOS circuitry, all built into a single chip.

In a similar way as smartphone SoCs integrate several components into a single package designed for a specific purpose, TSMC believes that MEMS sensors packages will end up with similar demand from developers. Particularly as the number of applications increases with time.

The next big thing will not just be one idea, but all the next big things will come from a framework of sensors integrated on CMOS chips. – George Liu, director of Corporate Development at TSMC

The benefit to innovators and development companies is that integrated packages can be purchased cheaper than combining individual components, which helps keep R&D and production costs low. MEMS and CMOS sub-systems could find uses in smart wearables, smart-home devices, cars, and any other electronic system that requires cheap integrated smart sensors.

As well as more efficient smartphones and tablet processors, TSMC hopes to end up powering the next big technological development.

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