Saturday, March 28, 2009

Taiwan's DRAM Bailout

By Yu-Tzu Chiu

(PHOTO: SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

13 January 2009—Suffering from a glut of production capacity, slumping demand, and enormous debt, Taiwan’s DRAM industry is looking to its government for a rescue. Who will get how much money won’t be known until early February, but one thing is clear: The Taiwanese government is making the acquisition of critical technology a main condition for the bailout.

“We’ve discussed future directions with local DRAM makers, stressing that acquiring key technologies from foreign partners is the top priority,” Premier Liu Chao-shiuan said at a press conference on 30 December.

The global DRAM industry got into this predicament because it engaged in a production-capacity arms race that led to oversupply and falling prices just as demand for its products weakened. Taiwan, which has 22 percent of the global DRAM market, was a big participant in that arms race. Total investment in the island’s 11 operating 12-inch DRAM plants over the past decade exceeds NT$850 billion (US $25.754 billion), according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). But now those investments are becoming losses. As of November 2008, the collective debt of Nanya Technology, Inotera Memories, Powerchip Semiconductor, and Winbond stood at NT$431 billion.

In mid-December, the MOEA mapped out strategies to prop up the struggling DRAM industry. The ministry’s short-term plan aims to help DRAM makers extend their loans and adjust terms of payment. Long-term plans encourage consolidation, including both mergers of local DRAM makers and government-backed collaborative R&D.

According to Chao-Yih Chen, director general of the Industrial Development Bureau under the MOEA, local DRAM firms that seek the government’s assistance for their collaboration with foreign enterprises would have to make sure their partners’ intellectual property could be acquired and that an independent innovation capability could be built. “Why should the government bail local DRAM makers out if they are reluctant to enhance independent innovation capability?” Chen said at a press conference on 6 January.

Some key technologies that Taiwanese DRAM makers would like to acquire from foreign partners include processes for making transistors and components with features smaller than 50 nanometers, for use in the newest variety of DRAM—DDR3 SDRAM (double-data-rate three synchronous dynamic random access memory)—and for use in NAND flash memory fabrication. With such technologies acquired overseas, local makers believe they could develop more-advanced technologies, such as a 35-nm process, within five years.

The government’s response to its first bailout request shows how seriously it is taking technology acquisition. In late December, Powerchip submitted a bailout proposal to the government that involved cooperation with its Japanese technology partner, Elpida Memory. But Powerchip was told to revise and resubmit the proposal because according to the government, the proposal did not provide a full guarantee that the Taiwanese company would acquire key technologies from Elpida after it received the bailout.

Similarly, Nanya, along with its U.S. partner, Micron Technology, is asking the government to shift at least NT$100 billion in bailout funds. Nanya and Inotera, both affiliated with Taiwan’s petrochemical giant Formosa Plastics Group, are seeking a fundamental change in their DRAM technology. A DRAM cell consists of a transistor and a capacitor. The capacitor may be built in a trench dug out of the silicon, or it may be stacked above the silicon in the chip’s wiring layers. Nanya and Inotera are terminating their cooperation with their German partner, Qimonda, upon full development in mid-2009 of the 58-nm trench-process technology. Now the two are desperately seeking financial support in a bid to jointly develop stack-process technologies with Micron that have features smaller than 58 nm. Sources at Inotera say that 60 percent of existing equipment will have to be retrofitted, which would be a challenge without a bailout from the government.

In addition to closer technological ties with foreign firms, the government is encouraging mergers among local DRAM makers. Chen says that a proposal involving the acquisition of loss-ridden ProMOS would be welcome. The Formosa Plastics Group says it would consider acquiring ProMOS, adding to its DRAM holdings Inotera and Nanya.

In an attempt to raise prices and slow the pileup of excess inventory, Taiwanese firms are cutting production drastically. The official goals announced for the first quarter of 2009 have Powerchip cutting production by 25 percent, ProMOS by 30 percent, and Inotera by 20 percent. However, according to inside sources, who declined to be identified, the real targets are double those announced. Those sources say that major DRAM makers have more than three months of inventory.

In another cost-cutting measure, employees of Taiwan’s big DRAM firms have been required to take days off without pay, resulting in salary cuts of 10 to 20 percent. Inotera announced it will lay off 5 percent of employees, or roughly 150 workers, this month. Nanya already dismissed 120 workers in December.

About the Author

Yu-Tzu Chiu is a Taipei-based reporter. In May 2008, for IEEE Spectrum Online, she reported on new software techniques for predicting which companies will fail.

Monday, March 16, 2009



 2009年日內瓦車展(Geneva Motor Show)甫於三月十五日落幕,這場為期十一天的國際盛會中,許多首次亮相的車款革命性地透露了新訊息:低碳環保風勢不可擋,已然是各車商在全球經濟衰微中,求存續的策略之一。

排放更少 感覺更好
 早在去年(2008年)全球經濟衰退訊號逐漸亮起時,主打歐洲市場的日內瓦車展就預告了汽車工業發展的兩個新方向:提高(駕駛)樂趣與降低污染。而今年會場中各類標榜低價經濟、低碳排放、與使用乾淨能源等等的新車款,在在顯示出汽車工業已經正視了全球暖化危機,並從降低二氧化碳排放的設計方向中尋找經濟契機。「排放更少,感覺更好。(Less emissions, more emotions.)」也成為押韻的環保車推銷好詞。


豐田預告 每公里排放89克

 豐田(TOYOTA)汽車的現場螢幕中,播放著過去幾年間所熱賣的Prius各類車款,現場則以大大的數字 “89” ,預告了下一代Prius更環保的表現:每跑一公里只排放89 克的二氧化碳。富豪汽車(Volvo)所展示的C30原型車款引擎則適用於多種燃料,從傳統汽油到天然氣、生物氣體(biogas)、以及生質酒精。馬自達(Mazda)的Kiyora未來車原型的智慧型裝置,可以在怠速停駛時自動關閉引擎,以降低油耗與排氣。賓士汽車(Mercedes-Benz)則正致力於零排放車款的設計,今年度至少會投入八十億歐元研發電動車。該公司研究發展部門主管韋伯(Dr. Thomas Weber)說:「賓士的零排放車款,也將會是迷人與優美的。」


汽車工業 全面轉向綠色

 在此次會場中特別區隔出「綠色展示館(Green Pavilion)」,參觀者可以從展示的環保汽車科技中,一窺價格更低、碳排放更少的明日汽車樣貌。來自里昂的法國車廠MCE-5,就展示了新式壓縮引擎,可在不影響性能的情況下,將碳排放量減少約35%。

 今年邁入第79屆的日內瓦車展,一路走來見證了汽車工業在上世紀的興起,與幾個世代裡的轉型。此屆車展官方指南社論主筆帕瑟(Christophe Passer)強調此刻汽車工業再度面臨歷史轉折點:「當汽車典範正快速地轉型時,繼續抱持保守的觀望態度將導致致命的危險。」該指南更以特別報導篇幅指出:正當世界各方,都在為減少溫室氣體排放與降低對石油的依賴而努力時,汽車工業更是竭盡全力地,找著替代傳統引擎的可能性。