SK Hynix to Stop Purchasing Etching Equipment from AMEC

Dec 05, 2016

SK Hynix has decided to stop purchasing etching equipment from AMEC (Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment Inc) that has its headquarters in Shanghai Because its performance is lower than SK Hynix's expectations and SK Hynix is concerned that its information might get leaked.
AMEC is a company that was established in 2004 by Gerald Yin who used to work for Applied Materials. Most of its engineers had had experiences working for Applied Materials and it is seen as a top company in China that manufactures semiconductor equipment for front-end processes.
SK Hynix received AMEC’s etching equipment called ‘Primo’ for its 2D NAND-flash production lines (M11 and M12) that are located in Cheongju. However it has come to a conclusion that performance of ‘Primo Plus’, which produces 3D NAND-flash memories, did not reach its expectations. SK Hynix already made such decision during its performance evaluation that took place in last September and returned Primo Plus that was tested for its performance at R3 Laboratory. Although SK Hynix received another Primo Plus in August of this year, its purpose was to whether or not it can upgrade its current 2D equipment to 3D equipment. Currently it has no plans of purchasing additional Primo Plus.
“Level of difficulty for etching process of 3D NAND-flash memories is different from others and equipment from AMEC did not satisfy requirements of advanced processes that SK Hynix wanted.” said a representative of this industry on the 4th. “Equipment that it purchased this year was to check whether or not it can carry out etching processes that do not require high level of difficulty and to upgrade its current equipment.”

SK Hynix’s business place in Cheongju. <SK Hynix’s business place in Cheongju.>

Although it seems that a reason why SK Hynix is temporarily ending its trade with AMEC is lack of performance on surface, industries believe that a real reason is because SK Hynix fears about its information being leaked. If SK Hynix continues to talk with representatives and engineers from AMEC regarding improvement in performance and supply and maintenance of equipment, there is a chance that its secret information regarding information of its investments, output, and direction of its major technologies can be leaked out. As of recently, China is very active in establishing production system for 3D NAND-flash memories. Nihon Geizai Shimbun reported that China’s YRST is currently working on technical alliance with Micron. YRST was set up by Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd. after purchasing a national semiconductor company called XMC.
Etching process is a process that shaves off thin membranes that are placed on top of wavers that went through deposition process through chemical reactions. It is performed when holes are drilled for wirings or when line patterns are carved. Etching equipment that is able to drill smaller and deeper holes and supports narrower space of patterns cost more. Global markets for etching equipment are dominated by Lam Research and Applied Materials and Japan’s TEL. In order to produce 3D NAND-flash memories that are manufactured by placing memory cells on top of each other, etching equipment is more important that deposition and stepper exposure equipment. A reason why value of Lam Research, which specializes in etching equipment, has increased in past years is because markets for 3D NAND-flash memories has blossomed.
SEMES, which is a subsidiary for Samsung Electronics, and APTC, which was established in 2002 by President Kim Nam-heon who used to work for Applied Materials, succeeded in making domestic etching equipment. SEMES and APTC supply equipment to Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix respectively. It is heard that their etching equipment are also not used in processes of 3D NAND-flash memories that require high credibility. Biggest task of etching equipment manufacturers is to increase performance of their equipment.
Staff Reporter Han, Juyeop | powerusr@etnews.com

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