LEIXLIP, Ireland - Chipmaker Intel said on Friday it had begun high-volume production using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines at its $18.5 billion plant in Ireland, calling it a "landmark" moment as it seeks to regain ground on its rivals.
Once the world's leading chip manufacturer, Intel has lost the lead to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, but says it is on track to regain it with manufacturing technology it says will rival the best from the Taiwanese group.
The EUV tools, which are theoretically precise enough to hit a person's thumb with a laser pointer from the moon, will play a key role in meeting Intel's goal of delivering five generations of technology in four years, the U.S. company said.
Intel's general manager of technology development Ann Kelleher told Reuters it was on track to meet this target, with two manufacturing processes now complete, a third "coming rapidly", and the final two making very good progress.
The plant, in the town of Leixlip outside Dublin, is the first high-volume location for the group's Intel 4 manufacturing process, which uses EUV. The technique will produce its forthcoming "Meteor Lake" chip for laptops, which will pave the way for AI PCs.
The EUV machines, made by Dutch manufacturer ASML, are as big as a bus and cost around $150 million each.
There are currently seven in the plant, where a constant stream of overhead robots, each costing the same as an average BMW car, whiz along 22km of track delivering silicon wafers from tool to tool.
Kelleher said Intel expects to receive its first next-generation extreme ultraviolet lithography machine, the High-NA EUV, in Oregon later this year. The company says it will be the first chipmaker to get the machine, which is also made by ASML.
Intel typically finalises new manufacturing processes at a research and development site in the Portland suburb of Hillsboro, Oregon, before exporting the manufacturing template to other sites.
Beyond its facilities in Ireland, Intel plans to build a big chip complex in Germany and a semiconductor assembly and test facility in Poland.
The new sites will benefit from eased funding rules and subsidies in the EU as the bloc looks to cut its dependence on U.S. and Asian supply.
At the opening of the Irish plant, Intel chief Pat Gelsinger described it as the "best day for Europe".
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries in Ireland, Max A. Cherney in San Francisco; Editing by David Gregorio and Jan Harvey)