[News] Increasing HBM Capacity to Sustain Market Share, SK Hynix Rumored to Upgrade Wuxi Plant

2024-01-16 Semiconductors editor

In response to the recovery in the memory market and the increasing demand for High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) driven by AI chips, South Korean memory giant SK Hynix is reportedly planning to upgrade part of its DRAM production equipment at its Wuxi plant to the fourth-generation of 10-nanometer process this year.

According to a report by Seoul Economic Daily, the Wuxi plant is a core production base for SK Hynix, contributing approximately 40% of its total DRAM production. Currently, the Wuxi facility is producing second and third-generation DRAM, which falls under the category of older products in the late 10-nanometer class.

As the semiconductor market enters a recovery phase, the expansion of SK Hynix’s high-performance chip capacity has become urgent. To maintain its market share in the High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) market, SK Hynix needs advanced products such as the fourth-generation of 10-nanometer DRAM or higher versions.

According to a previous TrendForce press release, in terms of competitive positioning, SK Hynix’s HBM3 products are leading other manufacturers and serve as the primary supplier for NVIDIA Server GPUs. Samsung, on the other hand, focuses on meeting orders from other cloud service providers.

SK hynix’s fifth-generation HBM (HBM3E), which began mass production in the first half of this year, has a maximum capacity of 36GB (288Gb) in its next-stage product. It achieves this through stacking 12 chips of 24Gb DRAM. In 2022, SK hynix first adopted the fourth-generation DRAM process to realize 24Gb DRAM. HBM3E requires the use of the fourth generation or higher versions of the DRAM manufacturing process to meet customer demands.

SK Hynix, in response to increasing HBM3E orders from key customers like NVIDIA, must find ways to convert the Wuxi DRAM process in addition to utilizing the capacity of its Icheon headquarters factory.

SK Hynix has been using Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography since the production of the fourth-generation of 10-nanometer DRAM. However, due to the inability to introduce EUV exposure equipment to Wuxi, the production of this DRAM becomes challenging. Notably, constrained by U.S. restrictions on the export of EUV exposure eqipment to China, transitioning the Wuxi plant to the fourth-generation of 10-nanometer DRAM and beyond will pose a significant challenge.

The report indicates that SK Hynix plans to complete part of the fourth-generation DRAM process on the Wuxi production line, then transport the chips to the Icheon plant for EUV application, and finally return them to Wuxi to complete the entire process. SK Hynix has experience with a similar approach during the Wuxi plant fire in 2013, overcoming disruptions in DRAM production.

Regarding the rumors about the Wuxi plant upgrade, SK Hynix stated that it cannot confirm the specific operational plans for the factory.

(Image: SK Hynix)

Please note that this article cites information from Seoul Economic Daily