Increasing demand for AMOLED panels from smartphone brands and the rising production of ICs for Touch with Display Driver Integration (TDDI) has propelled the growth of the NOR Flash market in the recent period, according to DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce. Currently, the global production capacity of NOR Flash amounts to just 88,000 pieces of 12-inch wafers per month. NOR Flash supply will remain tight because related components require a high level of customization and there are difficulties in ramping up production. DRAMeXchange estimates that prices of NOR Flash will rise by about 20% sequentially in this third quarter due to supply scarcity.
Avril Wu, research director of DRAMeXchange, noted that several major suppliers of NOR Flash have plans to reduce production or gradually exit the market. “Cypress, for instance, is reducing the portion of NOR Flash in its product mix as the company shifts its focus towards automotive and industrial IC markets,” said Wu. “Also, a memory maker has recently put up its 8-inch NOR Flash wafer fab for sale.”
Wu added: “China’s GigaDevice is investing more on 3D-NAND Flash and DRAM production following its acquisition of ISSI. As GigaDevice adjusts to the domestic semiconductor policies, the company is expected to supply less NOR Flash products than before.”
Some smaller NOR Flash suppliers have plans to expand their production capacity in the response to the current market condition. Winbond for instance, will add another 6,000 wafer starts to its total monthly capacity by the year’s end, increasing from the current 44,000 pieces per month to 50,000. This additional 6,000-wafer capacity is wholly designated for NOR Flash production. Macronix also wants to gradually raise its NOR Flash production capacity after the company has carried out capital reduction. Powerchip, which currently lacks in-house technology to produce its own branded NOR Flash products, is also expressing interest in entering the market by collaborating with other IC manufacturers.
Though there are initiatives to expand NOR Flash supply, much of the additional production capacity is not expected to become available until the second half of 2018 because time is needed to set up equipment and perform trial production. DRAMeXchange forecasts that the undersupply situation will persist in the next several quarters.
From the demand side, AMOLED panels, TDDI chips and IoT-related components are three relatively new applications for NOR Flash. These three rapidly growing application segments, along with traditional sources of demand, have caused significant market imbalance. As demand exceeds supply in the short term, prices of NOR Flash products will keep going up.
DRAMeXchange’s latest analysis of NOR Flash suppliers finds that Micron and Winbond are the most technologically advanced, respectively deploying 46nm and 58nm processes for manufacturing. The rest of the producers such as Macronix and ESMT mainly use 65nm and 90nm processes. On the whole, all NOR Flash suppliers will make a healthy profit from the current market. Differences in their manufacturing technologies on the other hand will affect sizes of their profits.