Toshiba, SanDisk look to boost flash production

Their planned 'Fab 5' fabrication site will turn out 210,000 wafers a month

Toshiba Corp. announced today that it has started construction on a new NAND flash chip fabrication facility -- dubbed Fab 5 -- at its Yokkaichi City, Japan, operation. The facility, a joint venture with longtime business partner SanDisk Corp., will turn out about 210,000 NAND wafers a month when it becomes fully operational.

Prices for NAND flash chips have been on the rise, although they have recently begun to level off. Because fabrication plants can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct, NAND flash fabricators such as Samsung, Micron and Toshiba have been reluctant to spend money on new facilities, experts said.

Toshiba said construction of the facility reflects its expectation that demand will increase for NAND flash memory for existing and emerging applications, including smartphones and solid-state drives (SSD). Adding new production capacity will ensure that Toshiba and SanDisk can respond to the market quickly and bolster their competitive positions, Toshiba said.

The two-story fab building will be built in two phases, with the first phase expected to be completed next spring. Once it is fully operational, Fab 5 will be comparable to a similar facility, Fab 4, with a ground area of about 125,000 square feet and a total floor space of 613,517 square feet. It will employ about 4,300 people, including 250 engineers.

"With our partner SanDisk, we will increase the manufacturing capacity gradually in accordance with market conditions, in a way that further enhances our competitiveness in the memory business," Kiyoshi Kobayashi, a Toshiba corporate senior vice president, said in a statement.

The initial manufacturing process will use Toshiba's smallest 20-nanometer lithography technology. The smaller the lithography process, the more data that can fit on a single NAND flash chip. At 25nm, the silicon circuitry is 3,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair.

Toshiba's Yokkaichi City operation already has four NAND flash memory fabrication facilities. Toshiba and SanDisk are currently ramping up production by moving into unused clean room space in Fab 4, and they expect Fab 4 to reach full capacity by the time NAND flash wafer production starts in Fab 5.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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