In a statement posted on Feb. 9, Western Digital explained that a “contamination of certain material used in its manufacturing processes” was to blame. The company noted that only 3D NAND chips are affected and that its 2D flash memory production is safe.
NAND flash memory chips are used to produce flash storage devices like solid-state drives. A setback of this scale could very well impact the prices of the storage market in the coming months.
Western Digital, which is in a joint venture with Kioxia, said the incident could reduce its flash availability by “at least 6.5 exabytes” in its initial assessment. The Register reported that Western Digital shipped 24 exabytes of NAND flash memory in Q4 2021. A loss of 6.5 exabytes represents 27 per cent of its quarterly shipment.
Neither company described the cause of the issue nor gave a timeline for when normal operations would resume. But a Kioxia spokesperson told Bloomberg that production would be curtailed in the near term.
Wells Fargo Analyst Aaron Raker estimated the combined damage to be as much as 16 exabytes, or 10 per cent of all flash memory sold in a quarter, reported Bloomberg. Together, Western Digital and Kioxia make up 32.5 per cent of global NAND flash memory production, according to a TrendForce report cited by Tom’s Hardware.
Kioxia, formerly known as Toshiba Memory, has an ongoing partnership with Western Digital in which it shares its production facilities to make Western Digital’s flash memory chips. The Wall Street Journal reported last August that Western Digital is in “advanced talks” to merge with Kioxia in a deal that could be valued at around $20 billion.
The recent incident mirrors the scale of another production stoppage in June 2019 when Kioxia’s Yokkaichi production plant lost power, resulting in the loss of six exabytes of flash memory.