DRAM capacity rises from slump; Sector faces new challenges

SEMI today announced details from the SEMI World Fab Forecast Report illuminating the state of the semiconductor manufacturing industry, coincident with convening SEMI’s Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) in Half Moon Bay, Calif.  Among the insights across the various segments, the changes in the DRAM (Dynamic Random-Access Memory) segment are an example of the significant shifts in capacity and technology that are driving fab capacity and investment.

Based on SEMI World Fab Forecast data, SEMI forecasts a favorable outlook for DRAM as bit demand rises, improving selling prices in 2013 and 2014. The DRAM sector experienced a sharp decline during the 2008/2009 financial crisis and subsequently contracted, both in the number of suppliers and in installed fab production capacity.  However, installed capacity for DRAM is forecast to turn to positive growth by the end of 2016; yet the path to growth is clouded by daunting technology issues.

In the five years prior to the economic downturn, yearly growth rates for installed fab capacity trended in high double digits.  In 2007, eleven major companies produced DRAM chips in approximately 40 facilities globally. Installed capacity increased 40 to 50 percent each year from 2003 to 2007. According to SEMI data, currently only six companies (20 facilities) produce significant capacities of DRAM. The industry has consolidated, with several front end fabs converted from DRAM to Logic, Flash or other purposes.

According to SEMI fab data, a capacity loss often occurs when a fab transitions to the next leading-edge technology.  Increased complexity and more process steps results in fabs producing 10 to 20 percent fewer wafers per square foot of cleanroom; this trend affects virtually all industry segments at the 30/28nm node and below. The SEMI World Fab Forecast report tracks nine fabs following this pattern.  From 2014 to 2016, DRAM fabs are expected to lose a total of about 25,000 wafers per month when transitioning to next leading-edge technology node.

To compensate for this, and to meet expected bit demand, the industry is beginning to add new capacity with new fabs and lines. By 2015, three or four new fabs or lines will be in operation. All will require time to ramp up; meaning that net capacity change likely will not shift from negative to positive growth until 2016, when about 3 percent growth is forecast.  How this potentially could affect worldwide DRAM capacity is illustrated in this figure:

SEMI WW DRAM Capacity Jan 2015

Figure: Worldwide DRAM capacity for Front End facilities in 300mm equivalent wafers per month and annual rate of change in percent


The ability to shrink DRAM nodes has become increasingly difficult.  Most companies are at the 21/20nm node now, with leaders at 15nm (1Xnm).  As conventional processing presents less and less opportunities, other technologies may move forward to eventually replace conventional DRAM scaling, such as non-volatile memories like MRAM (Magnetic RAM), FeRAM (Ferro-electric RAM) and ReRAM (Resistive RAM).  As these technologies surface, DRAM capacity may be challenged again.

In summary, DRAM appears to be headed towards positive growth by 2016. With the introduction of new technologies, it remains to be seen how DRAM capacity will be impacted and how much new wafer capacity will be needed.

The SEMI World Fab Forecast Report lists over 40 facilities making DRAM products. Many facilities have major spending for equipment and construction planned for 2015. Learn more at www.semi.org/MarketInfo/FabDatabase and www.youtube.com/user/SEMImktstats.


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