In 1992, when Samsungbecame the largest producer of memory chips, it was not in top10 list of semiconductor companies. It was ranked at #11. Since then it has strived to attain higher ranks in the top10 list. In around 2000, it climbed to the ranks of top5 and then since 2002 until now it is at #2 in the worldwide semiconductor sales which include pure-play as well as IDM businesses. The #1 rank is retained by Intel. If we include only foundry business, then Samsung occupied #3 rank in 2012 and #4 in 2013. However, interestingly Samsung is the #1 manufacturer of 300mm wafers since 2012.
Samsung has the lion’s share of world’s 300mm wafer capacity at 23.5%, which is much above its nearest rival Micronat 15%. Micron’s share includes IM Flash Technologies, its joint venture with Intel, and Inotera, its joint venture with Nanya Technology. That translates to about a million wafers per month for Samsung to process today! The top companies are continuously raising their share in 300mm wafers. The foundries are expected to raise the capacity further for couple of more years.
Another interesting data is that if we combine the wafer capacities of Samsung and SK Hynix, than it shows South Korea as the clear leader with nearly 35% of worldwide 300mm wafer fab capacity.
If we look at 2012 figures, Samsung’s 300mm wafer capacity was at 18.8% while that of Micron + Elpida was at 14.3%, slightly less than what it has in last December. In 2013, Samsung led in 300mm as well as overall wafer size capacity while TSMCled in 200mm wafer size capacity and ST Microelectronics led in 150mm and smaller wafer size capacity.
According to IC Insights report, the top four memory suppliers, Samsung, Micron, Toshiba and SK Hynix represent 62% of global 300mm wafer capacity. Although Samsung manufactures Smartphone and tablet processors to a large extent, major portion of its 300mm capacity is utilized in fabricating DRAMs and flash memories. The Samsung’s advantage is that a substantial portion of memory devices get consumed in-house in its Smartphone and several other devices. The rest of it is consumed in the open market which has high demand of such memory devices.
The memory demand and supply, although this is a commodity with cut-throat competition, will continue to rise. In an IoT era, as the number of connected electronic devices per person increases, the memory consumption will increase in equal proportion. So that will continue to utilize the wafer fab capacity and even create more demand for the same. Another large consumer of memory will be automotive segment. I hear that upcoming cars can account for more electronics than a whole computer room and can have more data flowing than a server. Imagine the amount of data storage and processing that will be needed by driver-less cars!
Another perspective to look at memories is that since they are commodities, volume play and cost leadership are the two important strategies that will work well in that space. As far as innovation is considered, there are many memory IP suppliers across the world to do that.