Chapter 1. The Fire That Changed an Industry

About 8 p.m. on March 17, 2000, a lightning bolt struck a high-voltage electricity line in New Mexico. As power fluctuated across the state, a fire broke out in a fabrication line of the Royal Philips Electronics radio frequency chip manufacturing plant in Albuquerque.[1] Plant personnel reacted quickly and extinguished the fire within ten minutes. At first blush, it was clear that eight trays of silicon wafers on that line were destroyed. When fully processed, these would have produced chips for several thousand cell phones. A setback, no doubt, but definitely not a calamity.

At a chip factory, production takes place in “clean-room” conditions. The cleanest of such facilities have no more than one speck ...

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