NXP is a proud member of the Austin, Texas community, employing approximately
4,000 people and operating two wafer fabrication (fab) facilities located at
opposite ends of Austin: Oak Hill and ATMC. On February 15, many of our
operations team members braved heavy snow and dangerous driving conditions to
make their way to the facilities, which run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to
keep the supply of products flowing. But this was no ordinary snowstorm.
Several hours into the day, we received notice that our electricity would soon
be turned off so that the resource could be redirected for the health and
safety of our community facing widespread outages. From there, we faced a
significant curtailment of natural gas and water supply to our facilities.
Without basic utilities – power, gas, water – a wafer fab cannot maintain its
basic safety systems in order to sustain a safe environment for our employees
and our community. Any interruption to these, even for a fraction of a second,
causes the fab systems to pause and a full recheck of our equipment and
product to ensue. But the termination of all our utilities for an indefinite
length of time? That required a complete shutdown of both our facilities and
an evacuation of our team (except the critical facilities team members),
marking an extraordinary event without any precedent in our 30+ years of
operations in the Austin area.
Now that we’ve resumed initial operations, I can look back on what happened
that day in February and share my first-hand experience of what the past
several weeks have been like for the NXP team, the damage we saw on site and
what it’s like to restart production at our facilities after a highly
unexpected idle period.
To back up a bit, let me position this in the appropriate context. Two days
before we were forced to shut down, the state of Texas and the neighboring
states experienced a catastrophic winter storm of a ferocity that no one
expected. For the first time in the history of the state of Texas, all 254
counties were under a winter storm warning. Ultimately, this storm resulted in
significant loss of life, left millions without power and half the residents
of the second most populous state in the U.S. without access to clean running
water. The costliest natural disaster in the state’s history, this was truly
the storm of a lifetime for Texans.
The Storm of a Lifetime for Texans – A Storm of Complexity for NXP
In Austin, our facilities create semiconductor wafers that are shipped to
other NXP facilities where they’re tested, assembled and finally sent to our
customers. The Austin fabs serve multiple end customers and market segments,
with the largest being major parts suppliers to the automotive and industrial
and internet of things (IoT) industries. To make our products, each of our
facilities use hundreds of pieces of highly sophisticated semiconductor
processing equipment in addition to thousands of critical and complex
infrastructure components that ensure our facilities are running properly. We
know that our products are used in safety systems in cars and in many cases
are crucial to the function of the end product such as automobiles and medical
When we do idle our facilities for scheduled maintenance, we follow a
painstaking process to ensure that all our equipment and all our wafer
work-in-process (WIP) is protected. Normally, the process to safely idle one
facility takes about a week (and the process of restarting takes an additional
two weeks). What happens when we are forced to shut down without that careful
process? Think of the angry, urgent warning messages you get when you force a
USB drive to eject from your computer, alerting you that it wasn’t safely
removed. Maybe your files were damaged and you need to check them all. Maybe
the drive itself is now unusable. Now imagine that at a much greater scale,
across thousands of pieces of equipment and tens of thousands of WIP wafers,
and you have a better idea of what it was like to fully shut down our fabs in
an urgent crisis and restart them only weeks later.
At NXP, we anticipate and prepare for emergencies through meticulous, careful
contingency planning. We consistently revisit and evaluate our plans to make
sure they are up to date, although no one ever anticipated an event like this
winter storm. Here’s how those plans worked on February 15 and in the weeks
Keeping NXP Employees and Our Community Safe
Our top priority is always the health and safety of our employees and the
surrounding communities. The first thing we evaluated was the well-being of
our teams at the fab. Not only were we all dealing with an unexpected
situation at work, but we all have families and homes in the surrounding areas
that were impacted by the storm. I’m proud to report that every member of our
team remained safe throughout the shutdown process.
In this crisis, the first thing we needed to do was ensure that the massive
bulk tanks of chemicals, gases and other materials we use in shaping silicon
were kept in a safe state, regardless of the duration of this shutdown. When
we lost electricity, backup generators were immediately enabled to support the
stability of these materials as well as the safety systems for our critical
facilities and cleanroom space infrastructure.
Cracked cast iron back flow preventer
Next, we were informed that our supply of natural gas would be reduced to
close to zero in support of critical shortages for nearby neighborhoods. NXP
then implemented its contingency plan for this scenario and switched over from
gas to diesel fuel. We also have a nitrogen contingency plan where we can
self-generate nitrogen or convert liquid nitrogen to gaseous nitrogen, which
is critical for our operations.
For any planned or unplanned shutdown, our safety protocol requires a team to
be onsite 24/7 to monitor safety and ensure the shutdown did not lead to any
issues with the machinery. We had a group of about 20 dedicated individuals at
each facility working non-stop, despite the cold and darkness, with many of
them staying overnight on cots we keep for just that purpose. These team
members – the front line of ensuring the safety of our site – make me proud to
be a part of NXP.
Bright minds. Bright futures. NXP team members create breakthrough technologies that advance our world.
The future starts here.
Careful Planning to Meet Unprecedented Challenges
In late February, utilities came back online at our facilities—the first step
of getting the fabs back up and running. The second step was to stabilize both
facilities; a multiday process of recovering both sites’ safety systems and
ensuring that processes like heating and cooling are working properly.
Throughout this process we conducted a variety of safety checks including
evaluating our integrated air measurement system, which is a very thorough,
multiday procedure to evaluate the gas elements in the air. Our facilities
team tirelessly reviewed each alarm in our sophisticated control room each
system was operating properly and enabling a safe workplace for our
engineering and operations team members.
On February 27, we were able to bring more staff back onsite, most importantly
into the cleanrooms, the heart of our facilities. Even as I write this in
mid-March, validating the safety of the facilities is still an ongoing
process. This is how thorough and careful we are when planning to restart
Only after we’ve verified safety can testing begin on every piece of equipment
in the fabs – just under 1,000 of them per factory. We power up all tools in a
safe way, inspect all wafers in our cleanroom, our WIP, and assess any
physical damage. There is a major troubleshooting component to powering up the
tools because they are so sophisticated and sensitive. Restart of the tools
must meet our quality standards, meaning measuring particles on each piece of
equipment before certifying the tools are ready to run our sensitive
production. To put this in context, we measure for particles 1/1000th
the width of a strand of human hair. A single particle can cause us to
undertake significant troubleshooting steps. It takes many days just to power
them back up, and then several more days to make sure they are
production-ready using our advanced process control systems.
Consider also these tools operate in cleanrooms at temperatures in a range of
+/- one degree. A long period of exposure to uncontrolled environmental
conditions, including a record low temperature well below the cleanroom target
temperature, caused the kind of major damage you can see in the photograph
Damaged coils due to copper pipes rupturing had to be removed as they were
Beyond damage to manufacturing equipment, the storm damaged components of our
facility infrastructure that were never meant to be replaced under any
circumstances. These are components that are meant to last the life of the
facility, and as such, there is no simple way of removing or repairing them.
These are unprecedented challenges that most semiconductor manufacturers like
NXP have never had to face. Our teams developed solutions quickly to meet
these challenges. A case in point is the replacement of damaged air handler
units. As shown in the images below, we had to physically cut out the damaged
units, remove a piece of the roof, and using a crane brought on site for this
purpose, remove multiple 1,000 lb. units through the holes we just made. All
of this with a tolerance of less than 12 inches, making this major mechanical
replacement a high-risk endeavor for the team.
The values exemplified by our wafer fab facility team are: safety, quality,
delivery, and cost — all empowered by our People. Learn more about NXP's
New coils being lowered through the top section of an air handler by a 350
There Are No Shortcuts to Functional Safety and Manufacturing Quality
Only once we’ve determined that the tools and facilities meet production
quality requirements are we ready to start running production for our
customers. In this phase, the product is reviewed and confirmed, the tools are
up and running, and we are finally able to ramp production towards normal
Restarting a fab is a time-intensive, full-team effort. Not only because of
the massive scale of what we’re trying to do, but also because of how
carefully we need to constantly inspect everything inside our facilities. All
of us at NXP are eager to get the facilities running at full capacity and are
making good progress towards that goal. Our processes are safe, tested and
proven. We did not, nor will we ever, take shortcuts. The professionalism,
dedication and round-the-clock work over this period demonstrated by our teams
on the ground in Austin is truly admirable. As we stabilize fab operations
over the coming weeks, we will step back and assess what we’ve learned and
identify opportunities to further harden and protect our facilities and
equipment from similar conditions in the future.
I’ve worked in semiconductors for nearly 30 years and am constantly learning,
but this past month has taught me and the entire NXP team more than we ever
could have expected. We saw the importance of putting our community first,
realized the value of constantly stress testing our backup plans and validated
the importance of placing product quality ahead of speed of recovery.
The values exemplified by our wafer fab team are (in order):
And all of this is empowered by our
Never have these values been more important than in response to this
unprecedented weather event in Austin. Through it all, our team reaffirmed
that they are the most dedicated and talented in the industry, and I am truly
humbled by their commitment and resilience.