TOKYO — In a span of just 11 months, a China-based memory chip company founded by the former CEO of Elpida Memory Inc. morphed from a dream to an apparent reality to a phantom.
Yukio Sakamoto, the former Elpida CEO, hatched Sino King Technology with plans to gather hundreds of senior chip engineers from Japan, Taiwan and Korea. The startup began its life as part of a $7 billion project conducted by the city of Hefei, capital of Anhui province in eastern China. The project included a wafer fab to produce cutting-edge semiconductors in its city.
Sino King started with 10 Japanese and Taiwanese engineers, with plans to hire experts in design and production technology, aiming to employ around 1,000 engineers.
Behind the scenes, there have been whispers among Japanese DRAM engineers — especially ex-Elpida members and some now working for Micron — who are involved directly or indirectly with Sakamoto on the launch of Sino King.
Sino King, however, no longer appears to be in active operations.
The company’s website has been scrubbed. It contains no news or updates. The only exception is an online contact form. EE Times filled out the form and sent it, but our inquiry has gone unanswered.
EE Times also called the telephone number — listed on its website — only to find out through a recording that the number no longer exists.
Takashi Yunogami, a semiconductor engineer-turned-consultant and an author of several books on the Japanese semiconductor industry, told us that he isn’t surprised.
According to Yunogami, Sakamoto in recruiting had promised Japanese semiconductor engineers an annual salary of 100,000,000 yen (roughly $887,000) under the condition that they must move to China and live there for at least three years.
Word on the street in Japan is that Sakamoto actually succeeded in signing up 180 Japanese engineers. Progress stalled at Sino King, not because of lagging recruitment, but because Chinese investors refused to accept Sakamoto’s promise to hire engineers at such an exorbitant salary. Sakamoto reportedly would not back down, refusing to go lower than 100,000,000 yen.
At the time of Sino King’s launch, Sakamoto said that his company will be designing low-power DRAM chips needed for the Internet of Things, with mass production slated to start as early as the second half of 2017.
Sino King’s plan was to specialize in design and production technology while leaving fab investments in the billions of dollars to China. A year ago, Sino King said that it would develop application-specific DRAM that does not comply with JEDEC standards, a tactic that would speed up the development cycle.
Sakamoto led Elpida until it was acquired by Micron in 2013. He lived through the rough-and-tumble of DRAM business at a time when the Japanese semiconductor industry struggled to adjust to the drastic consolidation. Initially, Elpida was formed under the name NEC Hitachi Memory in 1999 by merging Hitachi and NEC DRAM businesses. In 2003, the company took over the Mitsubishi DRAM business. Elpida went IPO in 2004, but by 2012, it filed for bankruptcy.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times