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DRAMeXchange points out that all three suppliers tend to be conservative with regard to next year’s capital outlays. They have opted to slow down their capacity expansions and technology migrations so that they can keep next year’s prices at the same high level as during this year’s second half. Doing so will also help them to sustain a strong profit margin.
DRAMeXchange also forecasts that the annual global DRAM bit demand for 2018 will grow by a larger margin of 20.6%. Hence, the general trend of undersupply will persist.
“Increase in memory content for smartphones and robust end demand from the server and data center markets will push the overall DRAM demand up in 2018,” says Avril Wu, research director of DRAMeXchange.
Wu also noted that while new fabs are being planned as to bring relief to the strained supply situation, but they will not be ready for mass production until 2019 at the earliest. “Constructing a 12-inch wafer fab will take a least a year,” said Wu. “And additional time has to be set aside for equipment installation and trial production runs.”
Furthermore, the plans from the top three suppliers indicate that their respective wafer start volumes will expand by only 5% to 7% annually in 2018 – mainly from the reallocation of existing capacities and upgrading of manufacturing processes.
The latest analysis of the three suppliers’ capacities finds that Samsung’s monthly wafer start volumes are hitting 390K pieces (K =1,000) on average. For Samsung, the only fab sites that currently have the extra space for further capacity expansion are Line 17 and a part of the Line 15 plant site. Samsung thus plans to build a second 12-inch wafer fab for making DRAM products in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.
SK Hynix is also facing the problem of having insufficient capacity to fulfill its DRAM orders. In terms of capacity planning, SK Hynix has reassigned a part of its M10 fab’s capacity to foundry works instead of making DRAM products. Due to its old age, M10 will incur higher wafer loss if SK Hynix tries to upgrade its DRAM production to the 18nm process. Fulfilling foundry orders makes more economic sense for this outdated facility.
SK Hynix’s M14 fab is expected to achieve a monthly wafer start volume of 80K pieces by the end of 2017. Still, the supplier has resolved to build a new 12-inch wafer fab in Wuxi, China. The fab, which will be the second plant owned by SK Hynix in Wuxi, is expected to become operational in 2019 at the earliest.
A survey of Micron’s DRAM production capacity shows that both its plant in Hiroshima, Japan, and the plant owned by its Taiwanese subsidiary Micron Technology Taiwan (originally Inotera) are running at full capacity. Only Micron’s other Taiwanese subsidiary Micron Memory Taiwan (originally Rexchip) still has 60% to 70% of its A2 fab site available for capacity expansion. The extra space from A2 can be converted into an additional monthly wafer start volume of around 30K to 40K pieces.
However, Micron has yet to reveal a plan for a new fab building. In the future, Micron may have to devise a growth strategy that takes account of its limited ability to increase its production capacity.
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