According to DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, China has entered the semiconductor sector and focused on the development of domestic memory industry. The three key players are YMTC, Innotron (Hefei Chang Xin) and JHICC, which work on NAND Flash, mobile DRAM and specialty DRAM respectively. All three companies have arranged trial production to begin in 2H18 and mass production to begin in 1H19. This will make 2019 the first year of China’s domestic memory chip production.
As for the schedules of the three suppliers, the construction of Innotron’s fab was completed in June 2017 and the equipment installation took place during 3Q17. For now, Innotron and JHICC have both postponed trial production to 3Q18 and tentatively arrange mass production to take place in 1H19, falling behind their announced schedule. Furthermore, Innotron apparently wants to compete head to head with top DRAM suppliers by choosing LPDDR4 8Gb chips as its first product, but there is a strong possibility that Innotron will have potential issues of patent infringement. To avoid arguments, Innotron will need accrue IPs that are recognized by the international laws. Another safer approach is to sell products only in the domestic market at the outset.
JHICC, which pursues the manufacturing of specialty DRAM, unveiled a plan in July 2016 to invest US$5.3 billion in constructing a 12-inch wafer fab in Jinjiang, Fujian Province. JHICC has deferred the trial production of its specialty DRAM products to 3Q18 and their mass production to 1H19.
In terms of China’s domestic NAND Flash industry, YMTC’s national memory base broke ground at the end of December 2016, and three 3D-NAND Flash manufacturing plants are arranged to be built sequentially in three phases. The construction of the first-phase plant was completed in September 2017, and the equipment installation is set to commence in 3Q18. The first-phase plant is also scheduled to begin trial production in 4Q18. During its early operational period, the first-phase plant will be producing 32-layer MLC 3D-NAND Flash, and its wafer starts are not expected to exceed 10,000 per month. The construction of the second- and third-phase plants and their production plans will proceed according to the situation after YMTC perfects its 64-layer design, says DRAMeXchange.
Based on R&D and production plans of domestic DRAM suppliers, DRAMeXchange expects the Chinese memory industry to formally begin production in 2019. As Chinese suppliers will need time to ramp up, the competitive landscape of the global DRAM market will not change immediately following the entry of JHICC and Innotron. For both DRAM and NAND industry, these Chinese semiconductor companies are still new comers that may experience more challenges compared with established memory chip makers, so there is a possibility that they progress slower than expected and have delays in their schedules.
In the long term, Chinese DRAM suppliers may be able to operate on a fully loaded capacity in 2020-2021 as they achieve maturation for their products. Together, JHICC and Innotron’s total production capacity is forecast to reach 250,000 wafers per month in 2020-2021. They thus will have some influence over the global DRAM market by that time. On the other hand, since the three facilities together will have a total capacity of 300,000 wafers per month, YMTC may start to significantly raise its wafer starts once it has finished developing its 64-layer products. This ramp-up in turn may have a huge effect on the overall market supply of NAND Flash in the next three to five years.