Global NOR Flash Market – IP Trends Forecast
We are all aware of the fact that industries such as IoT (Internet of things) & automobile are witnessing continuous transformations and are considered to be the primary trends in today’s time. IoT, among other varied applications, is used to manage and monitor electronic devices from remote places. The automobile industry is observing a continuous need for electronic components like ICs, microprocessors and sensors that work at faster speeds and have better performing capabilities.
For such applications there remains a constant requirement for sensor-enabled devices that use flash-based storage devices to store collected data. These storage devices must be very reliable with fast boost speed and shall be packed with ability to perform efficiently even during extreme conditions. The demand for NOR flash memories is expected to increase, even further, in the coming times, due to the growing demands of IoT based applications and wearables.
Intel was the first to introduce NOR flash back in 1988. NOR Flash had revolutionized a market that was then dominated by EPROM and EEPROM devices. NOR Flash could perform without the need for any external power source and was best used for code storage and execution, usually in small capacities. At one time, NOR flash was a booming industry due to their usage in feature phones.
However, as time passed, feature phones began witnessing a stagnation in their sales growth. Also with the entry of lower-capacity NAND flash memories as substitutes, market demands for NOR flash continued to shrink. Due to very less gross margins, even the Semiconductor wafer fabs declined production orders for NOR flash memories. Several major suppliers of NOR flash have plans to reduce production or gradually exit the market. Cypress, for instance, is reducing the portion of NOR Flash as the company shifts its focus towards automotive and industrial IC markets. As GigaDevice adjusts to the domestic semiconductor policies, the company is expected to supply less NOR Flash products than before.
Today, AMOLED screens need NOR flash to supplement the brightness and electric current; Full HD models demand the installation of 8Mb NOR flash, QHD models need 16Mb NOR flash. To further add to the list, NOR flash is increasingly being applied to automotive electronics and industrial control devices. As a result, due to heavy rush because of continuous demand of NOR flash within the markets, the global supply remains constrained.
The growingly tight supply of NOR flash is driving many smaller NOR suppliers in Taiwan and China to expand production capacity. Macronix International and Winbond Electronics, both Taiwan-based firms, have shown keen interest in developing, designing and producing NOR Flash products. This is evident from the fact that their sales are up from 2% in 2012 to 20%. Winbond who is a leading IC memory company in Taiwan that manufactures serial flash memories will expand its monthly capacity for NOR flash from 44,000 to 48,000 wafers at its 12-inch wafer fab in Taichung, central Taiwan by the end of 2017, and further to 53,000 wafers by the end of 2018. Market observers indicate that the global sales of NOR flash products will experience a CAGR of 15% in the next few years to reach US$4.7 billion by 2020!
It is interesting to see that companies are stepping up the production of NOR flash at commendable rates. Winbond is producing additional wafer wholly designated for NOR Flash; Powerchip plans to resume production of NOR flash memory chips to take advantage of supply crunch; China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) reportedly has also seen sharp increases in orders from GigaDevice Semiconductor (Beijing) for NOR flash products. Etron Technology Inc. now plans to focus on production of specialized DRAM products.
It is still uncertain whether these measures will be enough to overcome the extreme scarcity of NOR flash memories, or whether the NOR flash will be replaced by something else in the coming future. Yet one thing remains true for sure – competition, R&D, and IP markets are expected to witness huge boom in the NOR Flash memory chip sector. This market is full of opportunities and threats and if investigated through right kind of amalgam of machine technology and human intelligence, the threats and the challenges can be converted into profitable business ventures!