The race to invest in semiconductor technology is unabating, it would seem. SK Hynix, the world’s second largest memory chipmaker (after Samsung), has announced plans to construct a new memory semiconductor fab in Cheongju, South Korea. The company will also upgrade DRAM facilities in China, with the total outlay summing $2.6 billion. This comes after global chipmakers like Samsung, Toshiba, and TSMC have spurred investments of their own to expand production.
SK Hynix is widely known for DRAM production, but the new fab will primarily focus, at least initially, on volumizing the production of 3D NAND. Presently speaking, the company’s M10 and newer M14 fabs are the only locations possessing the capacity to produce 3D NAND. The new plant will be situated near SK Hynix’s existing M8, M11, and M12 fabs, and construction is intended to begin in August 2017, with the projected completion, as well as the first wafers processed, coming in 2019. In 2017, the flagship M14 fab will see its upper floor utilized to bolster 3D NAND production. Additionally, SK Hynix plans to inaugurate the world’s first 72-layer NAND in 2017, outmaneuvering Samsung with their planned 64-layer NAND.
In the interim, SK Hynix will invest heavily into its C2 fab in Wuxi, China. As fabrication processes evolve, semiconductor manufactures face inefficiencies in the form of increased process steps and insufficient floor space for new equipment. To deal with the anticipated decrease in output per area of floor space, SK Hynix will expand the cleanroom space of the C2 fab to accommodate additional equipment, thus abetting in maintaining productivity and market share.
SK Hynix’s high profile customers include Apple, Sony, AMD, and Intel. They serve as an OEM for many companies. SK Hynix’s TLC NAND can be found in such SSDs as Intel’s 540s series and ADATA Premier SP550. SK Hynix has provided NAND for the iPhone 7, as well as Apple’s iMac and MacBook computers. In conjunction with AMD, SK Hynix produced the first HBM (High-Bandwidth Memory) standard that was first seen on AMD’s Fiji GPUs.
The global demand for NAND seems unlikely to cease soon, driven by smarter, connected devices and evolving technologies. The market is even seeing penetration from lesser-known technologies like that of smart cars and the increasingly omnipresent Internet of Things. As we’ve previously reported, NAND prices are expected to climb as the industry transitions to 3D NAND.
– Eric Hamilton