Growing demand for flash memory chips has pushed Toshiba and SanDisk to increase their joint investment in a flash chip production factory in Japan.

Toshiba will increase its planned chip spending by ¥63 billion to ¥289 billion for the year, which represents a record amount for the company, it said. Toshiba's current fiscal year runs from April 2005 until March 2006.

Most of the new funding will go towards expanding a recently opened 300mm flash-memory production line at Toshiba's semiconductor plant in Yokkaichi, Japan. The line, which opened ahead of schedule in July last year because of demand, is operated by Flash Partners, a joint venture between Toshiba and SanDisk.

SanDisk also confirmed it will invest around $500 million in the venture over the next 12 months to take its total investment in the joint venture to $1 billion this year.

Flash memory manufacturing spikes

Flash memory chips are used in a wide range of consumer electronics products, including Apple's iPod nano and shuffle range. Flash is also used in the memory cards for digital still cameras and multimedia mobile phones and devices.

When the jointly operated line opened, it had a target maximum capacity of 48,750 wafers per month, but this will be expanded to 70,000 wafers per month. Thousands of chips are produced on each wafer.

The flash production line is a 90 nanometre class line. Toshiba confirmed plans to adopt more advanced 70 nanometre technology on the line later this month. A nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre and the measurement refers the size of the smallest feature it can support on the chip's surface. More advanced production lines are required to shrink chip features down to sizes as small as 70 nanometres, but the smaller features usually lead to improved power efficiency and lower cost.

Toshiba also said it would introduce cutting-edge 52 nanometre technology in Yokkaichi sometime between October 2006 and March 2007.