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The road is long for China's 3D NAND flash mfg

Posted: 11 Apr 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:big fund  3D NAND  wafer foundry  NAND flash memory 

One possible explanation is an announcement made by Spansion a year ago (before the company was acquired by Cypress). Spansion said it would be jointly developing 3D NAND technology with XMC.

"Trouble is, the focus of Spansion's flash memory development has not been NAND, but NOR flash," Takashi Yunokami told EE Times.

Yunogami is an engineer-turned consultant and author of several books on the Japanese semiconductor industry. While at Hitachi, he specialised in the development of dry etching.

In short, nobody has seen Spansion's 3D NAND flash, explained Yunogami. This makes it truly uncharted territory both for XMC and Spansion—now Cypress.

Catch up

When reached by >EE Times, XMC in Wuhan, however, offered a different picture of its own 3D NAND flash technology development. A spokesperson at XMC responded via email to our inquiries:

XMC launched 3D NAND project in 2014. Later, XMC and Spansion (now part of Cypress) co-signed joint development and cross licensing agreement that efforts on R&D of 3D NAND Flash will be made by both parties, and intellectual property will be shared.

XMC claims that the company made "significant progress in 3D NAND project" in May 2015, when the company's first memory test chip "passed the electrical verification." The spokesperson added, "From then on, XMC has made continuous improvements in memory cell performance and reliability optimisation."

XMC is fully aware of its competitive landscape in the 3D NAND market. During a keynote speech at Integrated Circuit Industry Promotion Conference late November, Hong Feng, chief operation officer of XMC, stressed NAND Flash technology "presents a golden opportunity for XMC." He added, "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."

Then, there is a deal with Spansion. Despite Cypress's acquisition of Spansion, XMC insists that "the cooperation between two parties won't be affected by this."

Looking back on the Spansion-XMC announcement issued in February, 2015, Ali Pourkeramati, then senior vice president of strategic alliances at Spansion, was quoted saying:

"3D NAND will revolutionise how data will be more efficiently stored in the future. Our leading charge trap MirrorBit technology, which we invented over 10 years ago, will be the key advantage for 3D NAND innovation and will provide unparalleled high-performance data storage."

IHS' Minamikawa said that all the Japanese semiconductor companies were once engaged in NAND, although well over a decade ago. Some Japanese engineers are well versed in NAND, he suggested. But the NAND technologies they developed then is worlds apart from 3D NAND flash today, he acknowledged.

The question, then, comes down to whether XMC can gather enough experienced engineers to shoulder China's 3D NAND ambitions. That, indeed, could be the bottleneck, said Minamikawa.

Similarly, citing the lack of Chinese engineering talents in process technology, Yunogami flatly said, "Personally, I think the odds are against XMC."

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