Toshiba, SanDisk fast-forward flash chip production

Toshiba and SanDisk are fast-forwarding production of nand flash chips to meet increasing demand.

Toshiba and SanDisk will produce more flash memory chips on more advanced technology earlier than the companies previously intended, Toshiba said on Monday.

A new factory in Yokkaichi, Japan, will start producing nand-type flash memory by December, ahead of a schedule Toshiba announced in April to begin production between October this year and April next year, said Junichi Nagaki, a company spokesman.

Flash memory stores data even when the power supply is switched off. Nand flash is the kind of memory that's used in USB storage devices and camera memory cards.

The change in production schedule is to meet increasing demand for the chips. To meet the demand, the factory will also be producing more chips than the companies had announced in April 2004, he said.

It will start production with about 10,000 wafers per month and its capacity will be increased to 40,000 wafers monthly by the end of the first half of 2007. The company originally planned a capacity increase to 37,500 wafers over the same time period, Nagaki said.

In addition, the factory's capacity could be further increased at a later date so that it will be able to produce as many as 62,500 wafers per month if needed, Nagaki said.

The chips will be made on wafers that are 300 millimeters in diameter, Toshiba said.

The 300mm diameter wafers are the largest used by the chip industry. In many factories, chips are made from 200mm diameter wafers. About 2.4 times more chips can be made from 300mm wafers compared to the number made on the smaller wafers, and so chips can be made more efficiently and at a lower cost.

As part of making more chips earlier, the factory will be making the chips on more advanced technology sooner than it had announced last April, Toshiba said.

Chips will be produced on a 90-nanometer process technology at first, moving to a 70-nanometer process between January and June next year. The original schedule to do this was between April and September 2006, Nagaki said.

A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; the measure refers to the average size of features on a chip built using that process.

The facility will also start mass production on a 55-nanometer process technology in late 2006. The prior schedule was to produce chips on this technology during 2007, Nagaki said.

The new factory is the third on the site. The other factories produce flash chips on 200mm wafers and the plants have a combined production capacity of 100,000 wafers a month, he said.

Toshiba expects the flash market to grow over 30 percent a year from 2004 until 2008. The flash market is expected to triple in size to about US$20 billion over the same period, according to the company.

Toshiba was the second-biggest nand flash memory maker in 2004 with revenue of US$1.9 billion and a 29.2 percent market share, according to U.S. market research company iSuppli. Samsung was the biggest with revenue of US$3.5 billion and a 55.7 percent market share, according to iSuppli.