A flash memory shortage, beginning in 2016 and originally projected to continue until mid-2017, has been re-forecasted to continue well into 2018.

In March, we covered how the global NAND flash shortage would impact engineers in "What 2017’s Potential Component Shortage Means for Design Engineers". In May, we gave an update to some of the causes that continue to impact supply in "Taking Apart the Global NAND Memory Shortage".

What continues to exacerbate the shortage is the unexpectedly slow production of 3D flash memory, the continuously rolling demand of the mobile phone market, and the lack of other realistic alternatives in the near future.

There were some concerns that an overreaction to try and keep up with demand would cause the market to saturate, but that does not appear to be happening anytime soon.

 

3D Is the Future

Consumer products such as mobile phones, handheld devices, and computer memory still make use out of traditional NAND flash memory. However, it is being reported that the major distributors of flash memories, such as Samsung, have turned their focus to producing 3D NAND flash memory—a much denser and faster configuration. 

Last month, AAC interviewed Toshiba's Senior VP of the Memory Business Unit, Scott Nelson, and senior member of the technical team, Doug Wong. The duo talked about the benefits and details of 3D NAND flash memory, and why it’s so important for the future of electronics and memory storage. Higher memory density and lower energy consumption make it an appealing—and inevitable—pathway.

While 3D stacking of memory cells has increased density by up to 40%, the cost of manufacturing still remains high, due to its more complicated structure and process.

This is reflected in the difficulty in ramping up production, giving some explanation for why 3D NAND flash memory has yet to replace traditional NAND memory and why we continue to see a shortage.

Despite this, Toshiba unveiled the TR200 line of consumer 3D NAND SSDs, expected to be available this Fall. This will be the first consumer SSD available using the new memory technology.

 

Toshiba expects the TR200 to be available in Fall 2017. Image courtesy of Toshiba.

 

Market Impacts

This lack of supply is becoming apparent in the industry. Lenovo reported a Q1 loss of $72 million in 2017, which is starkly different from their approximately $170 million profit the same quarter in 2016. This is their first quarterly loss in two years. Part of that loss is attributed to component costs rising, specifically the cost of memory. And, of course, this announcement then went on to impact Lenovo’s stock price with a drop of 5%.

Even Nintendo is struggling with the shortage as they struggle with the lack of memory supplies for their new Nintendo Switch console. Unable to keep up with demand, the console remains perpetually hard to track down and may be son competing with flagship smartphones that are expected to be announced in the near future, including the Apple iPhone 8, and Samsung Note 8. Increased demand for these new phone models will also continue to put pressure onto the memory market.

 

The Nintendo Switch mainboard. Image courtesy of iFixit.

 

Optimistic projections suggest that supply will catch up with demand in mid-2018. The price of memory is expected to continue to rise, and then stabilize, with the first cost reduction happening at the beginning of 2019 at the earliest.

 

Feature image courtesy of Intel.

 

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