IM Flash unveils US$3B S'pore plant

update Joint venture between Intel and Micron Technology finally opens much-delayed NAND flash memory facility in Singapore, and expects to hire up to 1,200 employees.

update SINGAPORE--IM Flash, the joint venture between Intel and Micron Technology, has officially opened its NAND flash memory facility in the island-state.

The US$3 billion factory, which was originally slated to open in December 2008, met with delays and was at one point even shuttered, leaving 800 workers without jobs. Plans for the fab were revived last year, and the company initiated hiring in anticipation of ramping production.

At the launch of the facility here Thursday, IM Flash Singapore's managing director Chen Kok Sing said during a media Q&A session that the decision to "hibernate" investments in the plant during the downturn was "not a mistake" and it was necessary for the company to be "prudent" and make the right decision.

"About half" of the employees who were retrenched in 2008 have rejoined the company, he noted. The wafer fab, the first outside of the United States, is expected to fulfill its headcount of 1,200 workers by next month, he added.

According to Chen, the company has been ramping production of NAND flash memory based on the 25-nanometer process technology since mid-2010. The plant is also expected to manufacture chips using the 20nm process announced last week.

Currently, the facility is producing 3,000 wafers per week and hopes to achieve its full production capacity of 100,000 wafers a month by end-2012, he added.

Mark Duncan, president and COO of Micron Technology, noted that at full capacity, the Singapore fab is expected to contribute 50 percent of IM Flash's total output. The joint venture's other manufacturing facility is located in Lehi, Utah.

Duncan shared that aside from the US$3 billion investment, both Intel and Micron will continue to invest in the Singapore plant. He did not specify a time frame for doing so but said both companies will be monitoring the market condition.

Micron, added Duncan, is expecting "incredible growth and demand" for NAND memory. Chen said technology is implemented in various devices such as tablets, mobile phones, solid-state drives (SSD) and enterprise servers.

Queried about the impact of Seagate's acquisition of Samsung's hard drive business on IM Flash, a Micron executive said the companies were unfazed by industry consolidation. Glen Hawk, Micron's vice president of NAND solutions, said the Seagate-Samsung partnership "is not deterring our conviction one bit". Solid-state drives (SSDs), he added, are a key part of Micron's strategy and will include IM Flash's technology.

IDC: APAC leads semicon consumption
Separately, IDC reported Thursday that the Asia-Pacific region led in semiconductor consumption worldwide in 2010 with 51 percent market share and about 30 percent year-on-year revenue growth.

Global semiconductor revenue increased more than 24 percent year-on-year in 2010 to reach US$282 billion, the market research firm said in a statement. Intel topped the market with US$41.9 billion in revenues followed by Samsung with US$27.6 billion revenue in 2010, according to the report. Texas Instruments, Toshiba, Hynix and Renesas Electronics were the other vendors in the top 6.

Despite the positive growth in 2010, IDC noted that revenue growth for the global semiconductor market this year will be at a lower 6 to 8 percent due to projected overcapacity in foundries in the second half of 2011 as well as macroeconomic problems such as the March earthquake in Japan, a continued high unemployment rate in the United States and global inflation fears.

Mali Venkatesan, research manager of semiconductors at IDC, noted in the report there is a move toward smart systems-on-a-chip "as device applications move to embrace high-level operating systems, connectivity and application processing capabilities".