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Two years later, SK Hynix's £2.2bn EUV DRAM factory is ready to go

It started building M16 when 'overall semiconductor memory was amid downturn'

Two years after breaking ground, Korean memory giant SK Hynix has finished work on its ₩3.5 trillion (£2.2bn) DRAM factory, known as M16, located in the northwestern city of Incheon.

When fully operational, the facility will fabricate chips using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography technology, using a 1-alpha-nm (1αnm) process node.

EUV is regarded an important step forward in semiconductor lithography. The biggest advantage when compared to 193nm immersion lithography is that it allows for a simpler manufacturing process, reducing the number of photomasks required to print an integrated circuit. In effect, this means faster production. EUV also uses a dramatically shorter wavelength (13.5nm versus 193nm), allowing for smaller and smaller process nodes.

SK Hynix trails Samsung and TSMC in adopting this tech, which both use EUV in their 5nm manufacturing processes. Samsung also uses EUV in its DRAM business, having churned out nearly a million 10nm DDR4 chips by last March.

Samsung says it has the future of DRAM sorted after success with new EUV process


EUV has been an area of focus for chipmakers for the past two decades. Bringing it into production has proven slightly more complicated, often requiring the construction of bespoke new facilities, and coming with inevitable massive upfront capital investments.

The facility is the third in SK Hynix's "Future Vision" project, following the construction of M14 in Incheon and M15 in Cheongju. Work on M16 took 25 months, and the facility is has a work area of 57,000m2 (or 2743 nanoWales, as per the El Reg online standards converter) and stands 105m high (or roughly the size of a 37-storey apartment building - or 750 dry linguine stacked vertically).

SK Hynix also said M16 would use various unspecified "advanced pollution reduction facilities." Last month, it issued a $1bn "green bond", which will be invested in technologies to improve energy efficiency and reduce water consumption.

In a canned statement, SK Hynix CEO Seok-hee Lee glowed: "M16 is a complex manufacturing plant where cutting-edge infrastructures such as dedicated space for EUV equipment and advanced pollution reduction facilities are concentrated. It will become a production plant of a higher level that contributes to the ESG management as well as creating economic value."

He also noted that the firm had "was worried" when it started the M16 project two years back, when the "overall semiconductor memory was amid downturn".

The DRAM sector has suffered over the past few years, with prices and revenue plunging off the back of a long-running supply glut.

While prices remain spongy, there's evidence of a recovery. SK Hynix's DRAM shipments increased 11 per cent quarter-on-quarter in the firm's Q4 ended 31 December 2020. Pricing remains weak, however, with the ASP slumping further by 7 per cent. It reported its results for the quarter, and the full financial year, last week. ®

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