Not only Samsung Electronics, which leads the global NAND flash market, but also Toshiba, Western Digital and SK Hynix are accelerating the development of high value-added three-dimensional (3D) NAND flash chip technologies, according to semiconductor industry sources on June 29.
Toshiba, the second-largest NAND flash memory maker in the world, plans to release a prototype sample of 96-layer flash memory with a stacked structure with triple-level cell (TLC) technology in the second half of this year, and mass produce the samples of the new 96-layer product, which is a 256 gigabit (Gb) device, at its semiconductor fabrication facilities Fab 5 and Fab 6 in Yokkaichi starting from 2018. Going forward, the company will apply its new 96-layer process technology to larger capacity products, such as 512Gb and quadruple-level cell (QLC) technology, in the near future. In addition, Toshiba will unveil a sample of 64-layer QLC 3D flash memory, the world's first QLC die with the largest capacities of 768Gb of storage per die, in the U.S. in August.
Western Digital, the U.S. partner of Toshiba, will also develop a 3D NAND technology with 96 layers of vertical storage and 256Gb of capacity, release samples of its TLC and QLC NAND memory chips in the second half of this year and begin pilot production next year.
Samsung Electronics has already completed the development of 96-layer 3D NAND technology. The company plans to start producing the product from the end of this year. Samsung has mass produced a 64-layer TLC 3D flash memory with 256Gb of storage capacities from the end of last year for the first time in the world and aims to increase monthly production of the product by more than 50 percent by the end of this year.
SK Hynix has developed a 72-layer 256Gb TLC 3D NAND flash memory chip in April and will start mass producing the product as early as the third quarter of this year. The company will mass produce a 96-layer 3D NAND flash memory from the second half of next year. Once a Korea-US-Japan consortium, which includes SK Hynix, succeeds in finalizing the sale of Toshiba, SK Hynix will be able to catch up with technologies of leading companies in the NAND flash market through a technical tie-up with Toshiba.
NAND flash manufacturers are pouring their efforts into securing 3D NAND flash technologies because the global NAND flash market will be worth around US$50 billion (57.18 trillion won) by 2021 due to the demand for solid-state drive (SSD) and smartphone. An official from the semiconductor industry said, “For 3D NAND flash memory, more layers and more data in cells can cause physical and functional problems. The key is how to overcome such shortcomings and implement better. Rather than just simply stacking up, processing speed and data reliability are the technologies that cannot be ignored.”