Chinese AI memory chip company, Yangtze Memory Technologies Corp (YMTC), has been facing a formidable financial challenge in the wake of stringent US chip restrictions. Added to a trade blacklist last December and barred from procuring US equipment to manufacture chips, YMTC was confronted with the daunting task of adapting to these restrictions while preserving its vital role in China’s semiconductor industry, vital to fast-evolving AI sector.
YMTC’s uphill battle with US restrictions
YMTC’s struggle to remain competitive in the face of these constraints has been nothing short of monumental. The company expended a staggering US$7 billion in funding over the past year, rendering its coffers nearly empty. As YMTC exceeded its target for a new round of fundraising, four insiders familiar with the situation could not confirm the exact figure raised, but they all concurred that it amounted to billions of dollars.
Self-reliance in semiconductors
YMTC, based in Wuhan, is China’s most prominent producer of NAND memory chips, occupying a central position in China’s ambitious journey toward self-reliance in semiconductor production. However, the path to this self-sufficiency became increasingly arduous starting last October when a series of US actions hampered China’s access to advanced chip technology.
The magnitude of YMTC’s role was evident last year when it received a RMB 50 billion (US$7 billion) capital infusion from stakeholders, including the China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, colloquially known as “the Big Fund.” These funds were crucial for supporting China’s chip industry, and two knowledgeable sources revealed that the high expenditure on equipment replacement, development of new components and core chipmaking tools had depleted most of YMTC’s financial resources. Consequently, less than a year later, YMTC found itself compelled to embark on another substantial fundraising campaign.
YMTC’s future strategy
The recent fundraising round was not merely about financial survival; it signified YMTC’s resilience and determination to thrive despite adversity. Domestic investors oversubscribed to the round, showcasing unwavering support and solidarity with the company.
YMTC’s latest financing concluded before the US announced even stricter export controls, but this resounding backing serves as a powerful statement of unity against the US restrictions.
Chen Nanxiang, YMTC’s Chairman, (in photo above), who was elected as the new head of the China Semiconductor Industry Association, made a compelling call for unity in countering an “unprecedented upheaval” in the global supply chain. A government official close to the company likened YMTC’s efforts to those of Huawei in rallying the Chinese semiconductor industry to face the challenges of US pressure.
YMTC’s strategy for the future is not only reliant on fundraising but also on innovative solutions and collaborations. The company is prepared to source equipment from Chinese suppliers and explore partnerships with Japanese, South Korean, and European vendors, which could provide technology not readily replaceable by Chinese alternatives. An investor noted, “If that doesn’t work, YMTC will develop it together with the supplier.”
Chinese companies are gaining ground
Moreover, YMTC has been collaborating closely with Chinese etching equipment manufacturers, Naura and Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment (AMEC), to enhance their technology. The role of etching equipment in determining the number of layers that can be stacked on a chip, thereby enhancing storage performance at a lower cost, is paramount.
Chinese companies are gaining ground, with almost half of all equipment tenders from local chipmakers awarded to them from January to August this year. An executive at a Chinese chipmaker emphasized that while tools that can be readily replaced by Chinese equipment are less challenging, the real hurdle is posed by advanced tools.
YMTC’s resilience, innovation, and collaboration efforts not only provide a glimpse into its strategy for surmounting US restrictions but also underscore the importance of self-sufficiency in the global semiconductor landscape. In a sector where technology and innovation reign supreme, YMTC’s determination to adapt, innovate, and thrive is a testament to the future of AI chip manufacturing.