A “technological chicken game” among global semiconductor companies is escalating as the technological power in the semiconductor sector is considered a core factor of the competitiveness of smartphones these days when smartphone makers, the largest semiconductor consumers, launch new models at least once every five months.
The expansion of semiconductor use such as the expansion of smartphones, the IoT and smart cars is fueling companies’ use of 3D NAND memory semiconductors with better electric power efficiency and stronger performances. HIS forecast that demand for 3D NAND-based solid state drives (SDDs) which accounted for about 10% in the corporate memory market last year, will spike up to 40% this year and 88% by 2019. Analysts say that laptops with SSDs will climb to 38% this year and 51% in 2020 from 29% last year.
In line with explosively growing demand, semiconductor companies are actively investing in the NAND market. It is Samsung Electronics that takes the initiative in the competition. The Korean semiconductor giant is armed with technological prowess to pile up to 40 layers. It is predicted that taking into consideration the fact that its rivals such as Toshiba, SK Hynix and Micron will began to roll out 3D NAND semiconductors on a full scale in the second half of next year, Samsung will begin to mass-produce fourth-generation (64-layer) 3D NAND flashes around March or April of next year by moving up the completion of its semiconductor plant in Pyeongtaek by at least three months.
When the Pyeongtaek plant is completed and the production volume of Hwaseong 17 Line is added to 3D NAND production volume, Samsung Electronics’s 3D NAND flash production capacity will double to 320,000 from the current level. This means that Samsung Electronics will beat its rivals by way of material superiority before its rivals secure mass-production systems.
SK Hynix is preparing to roll out 3D NAND memories, as well. They are installing various kinds of infrastructure equipment in a clean room on the second floor of M14 Line in Icheon among others.
Second-generation (36-layer) 3D NAND memories began to be shipped in the second quarter of this year. The company will start mass-production of second-generation (36-layer) 3D NAND memories in the third quarter of this year. They will step up investment in third-generation (48-layer) NAND memories in the fourth quarter. It is expected that 3D NAND memories will account for over 50% of SK Hynix’s production volume.
Foreign companies are reinforcing their 3D NAND memory business. In July, China’s Qinghua and Uni Group took over equities in XMC in China. XMC had developed 3D NAND technology with Spansion, a US semiconductor company. The company has a plan to build a US$ 12 billion wafer plant. Toshiba of Japan will mass-produce 3D NAND semiconductors by building a new fab 2 line in concert with Western Digital.
A technological chicken game is expanding in the foundry market. In particular, TSMC of Taiwan is having an endless race over ultra-precise processes with Samsung Electronics. “TSMC intended to widen its gap with rivals such as Samsung Electronics by accelerating its technological development,” said industry watchers with regard to the fact that recently the largest foundry company came up with an outlook on 3 nano R&D. TSMC exclusively shipped mobile AP chips for the iPhone 7 by putting a 16 nano process to good use. TSMC is planning to roll out 10 nano products between late this year and early next year and seven nano products in the first half of next year. They are adding momentum to the development of five nano products by mass-producing them by 2020.
Samsung Electronics’s System LSI Business Division is dialing up human resources and investment for the development of seven nano products after taking on developing ten nano products in the second half of this year. “We are putting our utmost efforts into the system semiconductor business,” said Kim Ki-nam, the president of Samsung Electronics in charge of semiconductors in the Congress of Semiconductor Associations this past March. Now, system semiconductors account for less than 5% in the word semiconductor market. Thinking about it the other way around, system semiconductors have potential to grow 95% more,” Kim said, stressing the importance of system semiconductors.