Three major DRAM makers – Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix, and Micron Technology – are expected to mass produce 18 nm DRAM starting next year.
According to industry sources on Oct. 12, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix are scheduled to mass produce 18 nm DRAM, starting as early as the latter half of 2016. After 18 nm DRAM, which is thought to be the ultimate limit for micro-processing DRAM, the two Korean chip makers are planning to introduce extreme ultra violet (EUV) exposure equipment made by ASML and to improve the production process of DRAM step by step, like from mid-10 nm class to early 10 nm class, by 2020.
Micron Technology also came up with a large-scale investment plan to counter Samsung and SK Hynix. The world's third largest DRAM supplier is going to inject 100 billion yen (969.7 billion won or US$834 million) into a factory in Hiroshima, Japan for one year, so as to mass produce high-speed DRAM. Micron revealed a plan to mass-produce DRAM using a 16 nm class production process in the plant, which can produce 20 to 30 percent more DRAM than a 20 nm based one. The plan is putting the two Korean rivals on edge.
However, industry analysts are skeptical of Micron's 16 nm class production process. First, to overcome the limits of the existing 20 nm class manufacturing process, a design change of dielectric layer is necessary to use a material with an atomic structure that is denser than the existing molecular structure. But the US-based company has yet to secure related technology.
To introduce a 16 nm class production process, it is also necessary to have EUV equipment, which is estimated at 100 billion won (US$87 million) per unit. Micron's 100 billion yen investment is not sufficient. ASML can only produce up to 7 or 8 units of EUV equipment per year.
Samsung, on the other hand, plans to start producing 18 nm DRAM in the latter half of next year. It is aiming to decrease the line width of DRAM from 18 nm to 15 nm, and then to 10 nm DRAM by 2020. The Korean company is highly likely to introduce a completely new technology, following the production process of 18 nm DRAM, where an improved version of dual photo exposure technology is used.
SK Hynix, which stalled at a 25 nm production process for about two years, succeeded in making 20 nm class DRAM in the third quarter of this year. After developing an 18 nm process technology during the first quarter of 2016, the semiconductor company is planning to start mass producing 18 nm DRAM as early as the latter half. An industry source explained, “Samsung has maintained the one-year (or more) gap with its competitors in 20 nm class DRAM, but the company will have to compete with its rivals at the 10 nm level.”