Through their joint venture, Flashvision LLC, the two companies began in June 2001 joint production of flash memory, utilising the manufacturing plant of Dominion Semiconductor LLC, a unit of Tokyo's Toshiba based in Virginia. However, facing increasing losses in the commodity DRAM (dynamic random access memory) business, Toshiba decided in late 2001 to sell Dominion to Micron Technology and at the same time said it would relocate Flashvision production to its semiconductor fabrication plant in Yokkaichi, Japan.
With the relocation agreement now complete, Flashvision is expected to begin production in Japan in the third quarter of this year and reach full-scale production by the first quarter of 2003, the two parent companies said. To meet Flashvision's immediate shortfall, Toshiba is producing flash memory for the company until the ramp-up of production at Yokkaichi is complete.
The NAND-type flash memory being produced is being primarily used in memory cards for products such as digital cameras, PDAs and digital music players. Sandisk, based in California, is a major vendor of such cards, selling Compact Flash, Smart Media, Memory Stick, MultiMedia and Secure Digital cards.
By shifting production to Yokkaichi, which is Toshiba's most advanced semiconductor facility, the companies said they expect to make the shift from 0.16-micron production technology to the more advanced 0.13-micron level. With the move, the companies will be able to squeeze more memory cells on to the surface of each chip and thus create higher capacity memory chips - something for which there is a growing need as consumers begin to look to memory cards as a medium for storing video taken using digital cameras.
In February, Sandisk and Toshiba said they had succeeded in developing a 1Gbit flash memory chip using 0.13-micron technology. The product is expected to come to market sometime in 2006.