Groundbreaking of the New XMC Memory Fab in China at the End of March Signals another Breakthrough in Chinese NAND Flash Industry, Says TrendForce

22 Mar

Major Chinese memory manufacturer XMC will begin the construction of a new wafer fab at the end of March. This fab is expected to enter production by the start of 2018 and its main strategic product at the outset will be 3D-NAND Flash, the most advanced Flash memory product available on the market.

“Currently, XMC mainly produces NOR Flash at a capacity of 20,000 wafers per month,” noted Sean Yang, research director of DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce. “The commencement of the new fab’s construction is an important milestone. While XMC is showing its strong ambition to form its NAND Flash business, the Chinese memory industry is signaling that it is entering the next phase of development after two years of groundwork.”

Unlike other large international NAND Flash suppliers, XMC choose to partner with U.S.-based IC house Spansion to build their 3D-NAND Flash technology independently. After the 3D-NAND Flash chip co-developed by the two companies successfully completed its electrical test last year, more layers have been added to chip’s architecture. XMC plans to launch its 3D-NAND Flash products at the turn of 2017 and 2018 as to ride on the high growth of the Flash storage market. By rapidly developing and incorporating the new memory technology into its product lines, the Chinese memory maker aims to quickly catch up to the other major NAND Flash suppliers. XMC’s future fab is expected to eventually reach a capacity of 200,000 wafers per month. Increases in capacity, however, will be the result of the Chinese memory maker achieving technological maturity and stability in production. Hence, the new fab is unlikely to attain the above capacity figure in the short term, and any significant rises in the fab’s capacity will probably take place 5~10 years later.

International NAND Flash suppliers are rapidly increasing their local manufacturing capacities in China

Yang added: “The fast-tracked formation of a local NAND Flash chain in China is also attracting the attention of several international memory suppliers, compelling them to increase their strategic investments in the country. Intel, for instance, is overhauling a fab in the city of Dalian to make memory chips. When the retooled Dalian fab goes into operation in this fourth quarter, its capacity will help boost China’s representation in the global production of NAND Flash wafers to 8%. China’s share in the global production will continue to grow and may exceed 10% before the third quarter of 2017.

At present, Samsung is only supplier capable of mass producing 3D-NAND Flash and has a sizable share of the global PC-OEM market. Furthermore, South Korean memory maker is on schedule for the commercial release of its third-generation 3D-NAND Flash. Mass production is set in the second half of this year, when branded notebook vendors will be stocking up memory components for their new product models.

Competing suppliers have also accelerated their 3D-NAND Flash roadmaps, with products for the SSD markets expected to roll out in the second half of the year. DRAMeXchange estimates that the advanced memory technology will account for 20% of the global NAND Flash memory production by the end of 2016, a massive increase from 6% a year earlier. The growth of 3D-NAND Flash will also hasten the penetration of SSD products in other application markets.