Chemical contamination at Kioxia/WD 3D NAND fabs

Production at Kioxia and Western Digital’s 3D NAND fabrication facilities in Japan is being disrupted by chemical contamination, with at least 6.5 exabytes of capacity lost.

The two companies operate a joint venture which has six fabs at Yokkaichi in Mie province, employing some 8,000 people, and a seventh fab at Kitakami in Iwate province.

A Kioxia statement says that, in late January, a chemical used in 3D NAND production was found to be contaminated and production was affected. Measures are being taken to restore normal production. Manufacture of 2D NAND is not affected.

Western Digital Corp confirmed soon after that production operations at both the Yokkaichi and Kitakami joint venture flash fabrication facilities were affected.

WD said in a statement:

The contaminated chemical substance and its supplier were not identified.

Youtube Video

Video showing Kioxia and WD’s Yokkaichi plant

Wells Fargo analyst Aaron Rakers pointed out that WD takes about 40 per cent of the JV’s output and, by extension, Kioxia will also suffer a production capacity loss, meaning a potential reduction of production output of up to 16EB.

WD shipped around 24EB of NAND in 2021’s fourth quarter, meaning it’s potentially lost the equivalent of 27 per cent of that quarter’s output. Clearly its NAND revenues in the current quarter will be reduced by this production loss and the same will be true for Kioxia.

Rakers estimated NAND demand last quarter was about 160EB. Assuming that demand level carries through to the current quarter, up to 10 per cent of that demand won’t be satisfied and 3D NAND prices will probably rise as a result.

Research house TrendForce suggests: “The consequences of this latest incident may push the price of NAND Flash in Q2 to spike 5~10 per cent.”

If the affected chemical was a gas or liquid then tanks used to store it, and pipes used to deliver it around the plant and into machines, will have to be emptied and cleaned, and then tanks restocked. The machines themselves will have to be cleaned. This will take time.

Rakers pointed out: “It is unclear to what extent the chemical impacts could have affected the fab manufacturing equipment.”

In other words, the lost production capacity could be greater than 16EB and the period needed to regain normal operations longer than otherwise.

An oversupply in some segments of memory chips – despite shortages in microprocessors and many other components – previously pointed at a Q2 decline in enterprise SSD product pricing, but this will now be largely restrained, added Trendforce. ®

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