TORONTO — Samsung’s memory fab line in China has kicked into gear with full-scale manufacturing of its 3D V-NAND flash memory chips, while Toshiba has forged plans with SanDisk for a new joint facility in Japan.
Samsung’s ramp-up follows its announcement in August that it had begun mass production of a 128 Gbit/s NAND flash memory that is integrated in multiple layers. Its 3D V-NAND products have already been produced in its Korea fabs.
Construction of the new facility took 20 months since Samsung broke ground in Xi’an in September 2012 to build the approximately 230,000 square meter facility. In an email exchange with EE Times, Hangu Sohn, product planning director for Samsung Semiconductor, said Xi’an was chosen due to its excellent infrastructure, its highly skilled workforce, and its role as an important center for the information technology industry in China, where approximately 50% of global NAND flash is generated from production bases operated by the country’s many IT companies.
Samsung plans to complete construction of its entire Xi’an complex, which includes an assembly facility and test line, by the end of this year. Sohn said the fab will help Samsung to rapidly respond to and meet fast-growing customer demand in both China and other countries.
Samsung is not the only company gearing up for production of 3D NAND flash. Last July, Toshiba announced it was beefing up its NAND manufacturing capacity with the second phase of Fab 5 at its Yokkaichi facility in Mie, Japan, due to be completed this summer. It will be capable of running the company’s multilayered BiCS (Bit-Cost Scalable) manufacturing process for 3D NAND memories.
And, more recently, Toshiba announced it would collaborate with SanDisk on a new joint facility on the Yokkaichi campus by replacing its Fab 2 complex at a cost of $7 billion over the next three years. Completion is expected in September 2015, and the facility will include a clean room that will be built in phases to accommodate the conversion from 2D NAND capacity to 3D NAND.
SanDisk, meanwhile, is expected to up its capital spending after chopping it by 28% in 2012 and 12% in 2013, according to IC Insights. It’s now forecasted to show the largest capital spending percentage increase (86%) among the top 10, to expand production of advanced 3D NAND flash memory with Toshiba.
One of the main challenges ahead for 3D NAND is developing new process technologies to produce it economically. Sohn says Samsung can employ current manufacturing resources for most parts of the processes, with the V-NAND production just requiring more complex process steps to stack layers vertically.
As noted late last year by Jim Handy, principal analyst at Objective Analysis, in an interview with EE Times, in order for 3D NAND to make sense, it has to be ultimately cheaper to produce than 2D NAND. He noted there are also new processes involved in manufacturing that have yet to be applied to semiconductors, and those will have to be ironed out.
Micron, meanwhile, is holding back from releasing samples of its 3D NAND, because it doesn’t want to tip its hand to competitors. As part of a recent conference call held to discuss the company's second-quarter financial results, Micron CEO Mark Duncan said he expects Micron's 3D-NAND to be in the market at the end of 2014, and that the company has made good progress on its 3D NAND technology.
During the call, Duncan also said the 3D NAND market is likely to take off in the second half of 2015 or later, which is in line with most predictions. In the meantime, vendors are still working on improving 2D NAND production. Both Toshiba and SanDisk recently announced a 15 nm process technology that will serve to shepherd the transition to 3D NAND.