SK Hynix Completes M16 DRAM Fab

Article By : Brian Santo

SK Hynix dedicated its new M16 fab in South Korea. It should start cranking out 1anm DRAM later this year...

SK Hynix this week dedicated a new semiconductor manufacturing facility, Fab M16, in Icheon, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. The new fab will be used to produce memory devices, starting with DRAM at the 1anm generation (a 10 nm process). The company expects to start volume production in the latter half of this year.

Chey Tae-won

The company said M16 will be its first fab installed with deep EUV lithography equipment, which will give the company the potential to eventually push ahead to nodes smaller than 10nm. With 57,000 square meters of floor space, M16 is SK Hynix’s largest manufacturing facility in the world.

The company expects to also use this facility to create products that target growth markets and to devise new products. As an example, it said it plans to increase the proportion of high-value-added DRAM products such as HBM2E it produces to cater to the growing high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) markets.

Also later this year, SK Hynix will start cranking out 176-layer 4D NAND Flash products, which the company explained will have improved productivity compared to existing products. After that, the company said it plans to diversify NAND flash products, such as pursuing customer certification for 128-layer SSDs for servers.

SK Hynix said it expects both the new DRAM and new NAND flash to increase its cost competitiveness.

M16 had been on the company’s roadmap since at least 2014, but it wasn’t until 2018 that the company  committed to building it.

SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won said at the dedication ceremony, “I was worried when we decided to build M16 two years ago as the overall semiconductor memory was amid downturn back then. However, as the industry anticipates positive market condition upcoming it seems that our bold decision of the past will lead us to the better future.” (The quote was provided by the company.)

SK Hynix is already working on what comes after fab M16. In 2019, the company said it secured permission to build up to four additional plants in the area. The development site is called the Yongin Semiconductor Cluster.

At the dedication for the M16 fab, Chey Tae-won also said, “M16 shall remain as a symbol not only for the completion of Company’s … broad plan, but also for the beginning point of Yongin Semiconductor Cluster.”

The South Korean government has set aside enough real estate in Gyeonggi-do to accommodate four fabs and as many as 50 partner companies. SK Hynix intends to begin building its next fab in the Yongin cluster in 2022; the plan is to have that facility up and running in 2024.

SK Hynix said it invested roughly $3.1 billion in M16 (at current exchange rates). When it announced the Yongin Cluster it said it is prepared to invest as much as another $110 billion for the four additional fabs.

The company has been one of the leading suppliers of memory devices (along with Samsung, Micron, and Kioxia), and its stated ambition is to continue being a top supplier of DRAM and NAND flash. In October, SK Hynix spent $9 billion on Intel’s NAND memory operation, which included Intel’s NAND SSD business, its NAND component and wafer business, and its Dalian NAND fab in China. (Intel is keeping its Optane memory product line.)

Remaining competitive in the memory market will take resolve. From a technology perspective, Micron appears to have jumped out ahead at the 1anm level. Meanwhile, Chinese manufacturers are preparing to roar into the memory market.

In terms of total wafer capacity, the analysis firm IC Insights predicted last June that China will surpass Japan in 2020 and will keep growing the amount of its installed capacity to take over the number two spot from South Korea by 2022. Again, that’s total capacity, not just memory, but the memory segment of the market tends to drive total capacity statistics.

Separately, SK Hynix announced financial results for its fiscal year 2020 ended on December 31, 2020. The company reported annual revenue of roughly $30 billion (31.9 trillion won), with net income of roughly $4.5 billion (4.75 trillion won).

In a statement, Kevin (Jongwon) Noh, executive vice president and head of corporate center (CFO) at the company said, “Due to the global pandemic and the intensifying trade disputes last year, the memory market showed sluggish trend.”

The company said it increased shipments of DRAMs and NANDs (in terms of bits), but the average prices for both were down.

For the year ahead, SK Hynix is expecting that global investment in data centers will drive demand for DRAM products used in servers. 5G smartphone shipments should also fuel some demand. On the other hand, the company estimates that overall demand “will fall short as industries are expected to see limited increase in supply.”

For the NAND Flash market, SK Hynix said it expects that the market will recover in the second half of this year, “as high inventory levels across eco-system are resolved during the first half, along with the increased adoption of high-capacity products for mobile devices and the strong demand for SSDs.”

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