Analyst sees 3D structures set to dominate NAND Flash

October 04, 2013 // By Graham Prophet
Flash memory moves into the next dimension, as 3-D manufacturing technology overtakes the market – as conventional semiconductor manufacturing technology reaches its limit in the NAND flash segment, suppliers of these memory chips are set to adopt 3-D production techniques in order to boost the capacity of their devices.

By 2017, nearly two-thirds—or 65.2%—of all NAND memory chips shipped worldwide will be produced using 3-D manufacturing processes, up from less than 1% this year, according to a Flash Dynamics brief from market analysts IHS. The share of the overall NAND market accounted for by 3-D technology is set to jump to 5.2% in 2014, and then surge to 30.2% of total flash memory shipments in 2015. In 2016, 3-D NAND will enlarge its market share to 49.8%—representing about half of the entire flash memory market.

“There’s widespread agreement that just one or two generations may be left before NAND flash made using conventional planar semiconductor technology reaches its theoretical limit,” said Dee Robinson, senior analyst, memory and storage for IHS. “As lithographies shrink further, performance and reliability may become too degraded for NAND to be used in anything but the very lowest-cost consumer products. Because NAND suppliers are compelled to continue building products with higher densities and lower prices, they will migrate to 3-D manufacturing quickly in the coming years.”

A major factor driving NAND makers to keep improving their products is demand from products such as media tablets and smartphones. These devices are demanding higher capacity and less expensive storage of content, including pictures, music and video.

With 3-D technology, the emphasis shifts away from process shrinks and toward increasing density by layering NAND flash cells on top of each other. This will be the most cost-effective way of pushing NAND to the next level because most of the existing manufacturing equipment can continue to be used, minimising expenses while maximising return on investment.

Samsung and SK Hynix, the biggest players in the global memory trade, announced their initiatives in 3-D NAND in August during the Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, Calif.

Samsung said commercial production of V-NAND, the company’s name for its 3-D flash memory products, started during the second quarter. The end product will be