TORONTO — Magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM) is one of those memories that is still relatively niche and poised to replace conventional memories in some applications. What makes it even more unique is that only one company has really made any progress in getting it to market.
Everspin Technologies recently announced that Koyo Electronics Industries is designing Everspin's MRAM into its Direct Logic 205 (DL205) Series programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Koyo manufactures automotive equipment and factory automation systems; one of its major Japanese automotive customers was looking for a PLC that does not require battery backup. Everspin's MRAM fit the bill with its instant event save function in case of power loss, Everspin's VP of marketing Scott Emley said in an interview with EE Times, and it is also well-suited for harsh environments.
Koyo Electronics is using 1-Megabit parallel interface (MR0A16A) MRAM from Everspin in its DL205 Series PLCs and expansion modules. This type of industrial application is “old hat” for Everspin, said Emley. “It's where we started. We continue to pay attention to the market we've been developing over past eight years.”
While industrial and automotive applications have been Everspin's bread and butter, Emley said the company is looking at broader uses for both its MRAM and Spin-Torque MRAM (ST-MRAM), particularly for applications that require data persistence and integrity, low latency, and security. Its products have found their way into the data center, cloud storage, energy, industrial, automotive, and transportation markets. One use for MRAM in enterprise storage is RAID systems to store metadata and storage system data; if there is a power interruption, the system information is still held in nonvolatile MRAM and enables the RAID system to rebuild itself more quickly.
Koyo Electronics Industries is designing Everspin's MRAM into its Direct Logic 205 Series Programmable Logic Controllers
A Coughlin Associates report released last year suggested MRAM was poised for a 50% compound annual growth rate, with MRAM and STT-MRAM revenue increasing from about $190 million in 2013 to $2.1 billion in 2019, with one of its most appealing aspects being its compatibility with CMOS processes. Because the processes are mature, it makes integration less daunting than the transition to 3D NAND. In fact, the predicted evolution of MRAM is similar to that of flash: gaining traction in niche applications before it gets widespread adoption as costs go down and density improves.
MRAM does have advantages over DRAM in that it's non-volatile. Like NOR and NAND flash, STT-MRAM retains data without continuous external power supplies, and it consumes less power. It can also scale better than SRAM because of its simple structure, which allows for increased shrinkage and potentially lower manufacturing costs.
Emley said MRAM technology and its supporting ecosystem has matured a great deal for industrial and automotive sectors, which have particular demands with regards to environments, such as temperature, a well the enterprise storage market. “Automotive and storage are big growth areas for us.”
Jim Handy, principal analyst with Objective Analysis, told EE Times in an interview that Everspin is still the only company actually producing MRAM, although many have talked about it. Crocus Technology has what the company says is the world's first and only MRAM dedicated 300 mm manufacturing facility, established in 2011. Other companies dabbling in the MRAM space include Grandis, IBM, Samsung, Hynix and Toshiba. “There are a lot of large companies fiddling with MRAM.”
One area that Handy thinks might make sense for MRAM is the application of the technology in high radiation environments, including space. “That's always interesting.”
Back on Earth, Handy said an obvious growth area is in RAID controllers that need non-volatile memory in case of power failure. Typically, they use SRAM or DRAM with a battery pack. “People who don't trust batteries want to use something else, so MRAM has got some interest in that area.”
Handy said Everspin has been able to go the distance with MRAM thanks to deep pockets since its early days and subsequently being spun off from Freescale. Essentially, Everspin was able to start out as a products company with a big research budget. “That's allowed them to make a lot of progress."
At the beginning of the year, Everspin closed a $29 Million Series B round of venture capital and strategic investment that included existing investors as well as new ones: GlobalFoundries and Western Digital Capital.
—Gary Hilson covers memory and flash technologies for EE Times and is the editor of Memory Designline.
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