Memory-maker Micron intends to implement extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography in its fabrication plants by 2024.
Designed to keep Moore's Law alive by allowing the fabrication of ever-smaller chip features, extreme ultraviolet lithography is still relatively unusual in the semiconductor industry - helped by the high cost of the required equipment. Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) both have EUV fabs online, and they're going to be joined by Micron - but only starting in 2024.
"We had always said that we monitor EUV progress. We have actually engaged in EUV evaluation. We have had EUV tool in the past," said Sanjay Mehrotra, Micron president and chief executive, during the company's Q3 fiscal '21 earnings call.
"So we had always said that we will intercept EUV in our roadmap at the right time when we see the EUV platform, as well as the ecosystem, becomes more mature.
"We will deploy EUV in limited layer count in 2024 time-frame with our 1-gamma node, and then we will broaden it to the 1-delta node with greater layer adoption. And just keep in mind that we will combine it with our immersion multi-patterning techniques as well. So, we really believe that we will have a very strong roadmap."
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It's not going to be cheap, though. "Micron has placed purchase orders for multiple EUV tools from ASML as part of a long-term volume agreement," Mehrotra confirmed.
"The pre-payments for these systems will contribute towards the fiscal year ‘21 and fiscal year ‘22 CapEx [Capital Expenditure]. We have increased our fiscal year ‘21 CapEx to be somewhat above $9.5 billion, mostly from areas that do not impact calendar ‘21 and fiscal year ‘22 bit growth such as these EUV pre-payments, construction spending, and other R&D and corporate items."
3D XPoint fab finds a new owner
A small part of the initial costs in implementing EUV lithography will be paid for by a major fab sale. Micron put its Lehi, Utah fab up on the block back in March following the severing of its ties with Intel on the 3D XPoint project. While it was thought Intel may make a bid in order to retain manufacturing capabilities for the high-speed non-volatile memory, it's Texas Instruments which has been named as the buyer.
The deal saw Micron receiving $1.5bn in what chief financial officer Dave Zinsner calls "economic value," made up of $900m in cash from Texas instruments and $600m from tools and "other assets" Micron has stripped out for redeployment elsewhere or sale to interested third parties.
It's less than the company had hoped to get, Zinsner admitted: "We are taking an impairment charge of approximately $435m," he told attendees on the call, "or approximately $330m on an after-tax basis, as the $900 million sale price is below our book value of the assets being sold."
As for the staff: "The Lehi site has been an important part of the Micron network and responsible for many technology and manufacturing innovations across NAND and 3D XPoint products," Mehrotra said. "Texas Instruments will offer all Lehi team members the opportunity to become TI employees at the Lehi site upon closing."
Price hikes to continue until morale, or the market, improves
While Micron has dodged the worst of the component shortage issues plaguing the industry, despite a drought which threatened to take its Taiwanese facilities offline and COVID-19-related staffing reductions in Malaysia, it warned that prices are likely to keep climbing until at least next year.
"Both DRAM and NAND markets are tight, and we expect pricing increases for both markets in the fiscal fourth quarter. We don't provide pricing beyond this quarter," Zizsner said, "other than to say that we think pricing will be up next quarter, and we are suggesting that it would be tight at least into ‘22."
"We are hopeful that foundry capacity coming on line can begin to alleviate some of the component shortages in the second half of calendar ‘21 and support robust memory and storage growth," added Mehrotra. "Long term, we see a DRAM bit demand growth CAGR [Combined Annual Growth Rate] of mid to high teens, and a NAND bit demand growth CAGR of approximately 30 per cent."
For Micron, the highlight of the call was undoubtedly the chance to showcase its latest financials for Q3 ended 3 June. Revenue went up 36 per cent year-on-year to $7.422bn, aided by recent price-hikes to both DRAM and NAND products. Operating profit jumped to $1.799bn from $888m. ®