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January 20, 2021

Who owns the lifeblood of next-generation DRAM and NAND development?

Since the beginning of this year, the raging new crown epidemic has brought new changes to the global consumer electronics market. First of all, the rise of the housing economy has promoted double-digit percentage growth in the traditional PC and notebook markets. It is expected that this wave will continue during the second outbreak of the fall and winter epidemic; in addition, although the epidemic has delayed the replacement of 5G mobile phones to a certain extent, But the demand may be concentrated in the next two years.

The growth in terminal demand will inevitably drive the increase in storage bit sales. Industry insiders predict that next year NAND supply bit growth rate will reach 30%, and demand bit growth rate may exceed 30%.

In addition to expanding production capacity, increasing bit growth is also an effective way to actively introduce next-generation advanced manufacturing processes. Currently, flash memory manufacturers are actively promoting the transition of 3D NAND from 9X-layer products to 1XX-layer products, and DRAM manufacturers are also actively promoting mass production of 1Znm products. In this process, advanced manufacturing equipment is the key to its success.

Etching equipment accounts for more than half of the total capital expenditure of the 3D NAND process and will also be a key factor restricting the number of stacked layers

As we all know, the expansion of 3D NAND chip capacity is mainly achieved by increasing the number of stacked layers. In 2020, several major OEMs in the world will use 9X layers as the main shipping force, and have successively developed 1XX layer stacked products. Micron has already announced the start of mass production of the world's first A 176-layer 3D NAND Flash, and related products will be launched in 2021.

With the continuous stacking of layers, the realization of high aspect ratio and nano-level high-quality flawless films has become more and more difficult, and the importance of the two process equipment of deposition and etching has become more prominent.

According to data, in terms of string stacking, Samsung is the only manufacturer to develop 128-layer NAND memory with single-string technology, so it has a cost advantage compared to other manufacturers. However, as the number of stacked layers exceeds 160, Samsung is expected to next-generation NAND. The memory will also adopt dual-string stacking technology.

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In terms of manufacturing equipment, data shows that the entire 3D NAND wafer manufacturing equipment market will grow from 10.2 billion US dollars in 2019 to 17.5 billion US dollars in 2025. Among them, etching and deposition equipment capital expenditure continues to account for more than 50% of total capital expenditure.

In 2019-2025, the CAGR of the 3D NAND manufacturing equipment market is 9%. The CAGR of the dry etching equipment market is 10%, and the CAGR of the deposition equipment is 9%. In other words, the proportion of dry etching equipment market scale will rise to 73% in 2025, and the proportion of deposition equipment scale will decline to 23%.

Among 3D NAND manufacturing equipment manufacturers, ASML, Applied Materials, Tokyo Electronics, and Lam Research are among the top four, accounting for more than 70% of the market in total.

The EUV lithography machine, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars at any time, will be the key core equipment in the next generation of DRAM production

In 2020, the technologies of the three DRAM OEMs Samsung, Micron, and SK Hynix will mainly advance from 1Ynm to 1Znm. However, when DRAM develops to the fourth-generation 1a nm level, the original factory will have to consider EUV process, which is also the core competitiveness of DRAM technology development in the next 10 years.

In order to seize the opportunity of the next-generation process, Samsung has introduced EUV technology from the third-generation 1Znm process, and announced in March this year that it has successfully shipped 1 million of the industry's first 10nm-class (D1x) DDR4 modules based on EUV technology. In August, Samsung once again announced that its second production line (P2 factory) in Pyeongtaek, South Korea has begun to introduce EUV technology to mass produce 16Gb LPDDR5.

SK Hynix is also actively catching up. Recently, some media reported that SK Hynix is upgrading part of the M14 equipment. M16 will introduce EUV lithography equipment to produce the fourth-generation 10nm class (1a) DRAM.

Earlier news broke that SK Hynix will mass-produce the EUV process in the upcoming M16 new plant, and it is the first time that the relevant equipment is updated in the M14 plant.

According to industry insiders, the purpose of this is to preheat the production of the new factory, and first produce in the original factory to eliminate risk factors as much as possible. However, the specific production plan is still uncertain.

However, Micron does not seem to be interfered by the other two companies, and it seems that it is not too slow to introduce EUV technology. Recently, Micron's vice president and chairman of Taiwan Micron Xu Guojin made it clear that there is no plan to adopt EUV equipment at present.

ASML, as the world's only supplier of EUV lithography machines, even attracted Samsung's head Li Zayong to visit him in person, which is evident in its importance.

In the past few decades, the global semiconductor industry has been following the law of spiraling upward, and major technological changes are the internal driving force for the continued growth of the industry. The semiconductor manufacturing equipment is the cornerstone of chip manufacturing, and its technological development is one generation ahead of chip manufacturing. For chip manufacturers, grasping the most advanced manufacturing equipment can be described as "doubling the effort with half the effort" for its technological iteration.

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