SK Hynix’s Billion-Dollar Gamble: Pioneering the Next Frontier of AI Memory

Based in South Korea, SK Hynix stands tall as a global powerhouse in semiconductor manufacturing.

From high-performance memory chips to advanced packaging technologies, SK Hynix is at the forefront of driving progress in the semiconductor industry.

SK Hynix Inc. is really stepping up its game when it comes to investing in cutting-edge chip packaging.


Because they’re eyeing a bigger slice of the pie in the rapidly growing demand for a vital component in the world of artificial intelligence: high-bandwidth memory.

Lee Kang-Wook, the brain behind packaging development at SK Hynix and a former mastermind at Samsung Electronics Co., spilled the beans on their ambitious plans.

They’re pumping over $1 billion into their home turf in South Korea, all aimed at sprucing up the final stages of chip production.

Lee is convinced that tinkering with this process is what gives HBM (high-bandwidth memory) its edge in the AI memory game.

Lee’s specialty lies in the art of melding and linking semiconductors, a skill that’s become increasingly vital in the age of AI, where massive data munching happens via parallel processing chains.

While SK Hynix has kept mum about its spending plans for the year, analysts are buzzing, estimating it could be around a whopping $10.5 billion. And word on the street is that a good chunk of that, roughly a tenth, is earmarked for advanced packaging. That’s serious business, folks.

In Lee’s words, “It’s time to shift gears.” The semiconductor saga has seen its fair share of spotlight on the front-end – designing and making the chips. But now, it’s all about the back-end – the packaging.

It’s like moving from designing the car to focusing on the engine.

Getting ahead in this race can mean big things for companies.

SK Hynix scored big time by teaming up with Nvidia Corp. to supply HBM for its AI accelerators, shooting its value up to a jaw-dropping 119 trillion won. That’s some serious street cred!

Their stock has been on a wild ride, soaring almost 120% since the dawn of 2023, making them South Korea’s silver medalist in the market, outshining even heavyweights like Samsung and US rival Micron Technology Inc.

Lee’s pioneering work in developing a revolutionary approach to packaging the third generation of high-bandwidth memory technology, HBM2E, not only positioned SK Hynix as a frontrunner but also solidified its partnership with the tech juggernaut Nvidia back in late 2019.

But Lee’s journey into the realm of chip stacking and high-performance memory traces back to his academic roots. In 2000, he delved deep into the intricacies of 3D integration technology at Japan’s esteemed Tohoku University, mentored by Mitsumasa Koyanagi, a luminary behind the stacked capacitor DRAM technology prevalent in mobile phones.

Armed with this knowledge, Lee joined Samsung’s memory division in 2002 as a principal engineer, spearheading the development of Through-Silicon Via (TSV)-based 3D packaging technologies, laying the groundwork for future breakthroughs.

The birth of HBM was a watershed moment. High-bandwidth memory, a marvel of engineering, stacks chips atop one another and connects them with TSVs, resulting in lightning-fast and energy-efficient data processing—a game-changer for industries reliant on high-performance computing.

Yet, the journey wasn’t without its challenges.

In the early 2010s, while Samsung was preoccupied with other ventures, SK Hynix, alongside its US partner Advanced Micro Devices Inc., took the bold step of introducing HBM to the world in 2013.

This move gave them a competitive edge for a couple of years until Samsung caught up with the development of its HBM2 in late 2015. Nonetheless, Lee’s transition to SK Hynix three years later marked a pivotal moment, where he contributed his expertise to further enhance HBM technology, earning the playful moniker “Hynix’s Best Memory” among colleagues.

The release of ChatGPT in November 2022 heralded a new era of innovation. Lee seized the moment, leveraging his connections in Japan to develop a groundbreaking packaging method dubbed mass reflow-molded underfill (MR-MUF).

This novel approach, involving the injection and hardening of liquid material between silicon layers, not only improved heat dissipation but also bolstered production yields, setting a new standard in the industry.

SK Hynix’s collaboration with Namics Corp. in Japan further solidified its position as a trailblazer in advanced packaging technologies.

As SK Hynix continues to invest heavily in advancing MR-MUF and TSV technologies, Lee remains optimistic about the future.

However, Samsung’s recent resurgence with the announcement of HBM3E poses a new challenge.

Nevertheless, with SK Hynix’s unwavering commitment to innovation and expansion, coupled with its planned multibillion-dollar advanced packaging facility in the US, Lee is confident in the company’s ability to meet the evolving demands of the market and maintain its leadership in the HBM landscape.

Exciting times lie ahead!

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