As an important component of the 2015 Integrated Circuit Industry Promotion Conference, IC Eco-chain Cooperation Forum took place in Xiamen on the afternoon of November 26. Dr. Hong Feng, chief operation officer of XMC, delivered a keynote speech about “Memory Industry and Development Trend”, in which he analyzed the development trend of the industry and pointed out XMC’s strategic choice on 3D NAND Flash technology.
Golden opportunity for China’s memory industry: NAND Flash’s transition to 3D
Basically, memory comprises mainstream memory and novel non-volatile memory. Dr. Hong says, “PCM, MRAM and other novel non-volatile memories have some unique advantages over the mainstream ones, and XMC always keeps its focus in this respect. For instance, the 3D XPoint technology announced by Intel and Micron has recently stirred the industry. However, due to limited applications or scope of the novel memory, it will likely face the bottleneck of mass production and can hardly replace major memory in the short term.”
DRAM and NAND Flash dominate the mainstream memory market, the majority of which are for PC, server and mobile devices. The cost of memory accounts for nearly 25% of the total price of those electronic products. Dr. Hong analyzed the competition situations of DRAM and NAND Flash respectively. One thing to point out is that although Toshiba/SanDisk has the edge in terms of NAND technology and total capacity. Samsung is the world’s first company to realize mass production of 3D NAND Flash products. “It is inevitable for chip technology to shift from 2D to 3D, so is it for memory technology,” Dr. Hong remarked, “to continue on 2D architecture has limitation for various reasons, and the emergence of 3D concept offers new room for further development.” Unlike traditional 2D NAND product, 3D NAND features major innovations in structure and process technology to provide lower cost and better performance. At the initial stage of product offering, 3D NAND will probably be used in high-end devices. An exploding market growth is predicted when it is ready to be used for mobile devices.
Dr. Hong holds that NAND Flash technology is at a key turning point, which presents a golden opportunity for XMC to enter the memory field. “Samsung only leads 3D NAND development for about two years. As long as we start now, it is very likely for us to catch up and to be in the top tier.”
XMC seizes the opportunity and focuses on developing 3D NAND Flash technology
Memory industry, which makes up a large proportion of the entire semiconductor market, is experiencing rapid growth. In 2014, the global memory market size was up to 75 billion US dollars, accounting for 21% of the semiconductor market. It is expected to surpass 114 billion US dollars by 2019, constituting 30% of the semiconductor market. However, China is heavily dependent on imported memory chips, so there is an urgent need of improvement. Dr. Hong pointed out, “Memory is an industry of scale, and we will not survive unless we hold on and continue to invest to a larger scale, integrate all elements in upstream and downstream industry chain and stay continuously competitive.”
For XMC, it is imperative and realistic to develop memory. Dr. Hong said, “We have many years’ experience in memory R&D and manufacturing with the world’s most advanced NOR Flash technology. We have improved our intellectual property portfolio and built a veteran international management team with a strong R&D and manufacturing base. China has an extremely large market for memory chips and a great prospect for future growth, and it is like a big magnet attracting excellent talents from all over the world as long as we are determined to start this grand project. Our goal is very challenging, but we are bound to make it a reality. ”
In May 2015, XMC made significant progress in 3D NAND project: the first memory test chip passed the electrical verification. From then on, XMC has made continuous improvements in memory cell performance and reliability optimization.
Although some significant initial progress in R&D has been made, Dr. Hong pointed out, the success of the memory project requires careful integration with all the related resources in the industry chain including design, packaging & testing, equipment, materials, etc. and most importantly, the long-term and continuous investment.