AI-powered automation: Samsung's weapon against memory market slump and labor shortage

Daniel Chiang, Taipei; Willis Ke, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: Samsung

Samsung Electronics is reportedly accelerating automation innovation in its production lines to cope with the memory market downturn and labor shortages. By using manufacturing equipment fitted with artificial intelligence (AI) software, the company aims to boost production and operational efficiency.

According to industry insiders cited by South Korean media outlet Dealsite, Samsung has informed equipment suppliers that future procurement will prioritize equipment with automation features. This shift has prompted suppliers to expedite upgrades with relevant software, potentially advancing Samsung's automation targets to 2025-2026 from the initial goal of 2030.

Samsung's frontend manufacturing processes already boast an automation rate exceeding 90%, but backend processes are behind at 20-30%. While frontend processes focus mainly on "wafer transportation," the complexity of backend operations, which involve synchronizing multiple core components horizontally and vertically, presents challenges for automation.

To address this, Samsung established the Digital Twin Task Force (Digital Twin TF) in 2023, aiming for 100% automation in backend processes by 2030.

Industry insiders pointed out that the deteriorating operating environment has also prompted Samsung to accelerate process automation to enhance overall business competitiveness and reduce manpower demand.

For example, manual intervention for cleaning was previously required for equipment contamination. With AI, the built-in inspection system of the equipment can be used to confirm whether there is contamination. Improving the automation ratio is particularly crucial amid semiconductor labor shortages.

Relevant industry sources said that Samsung is procuring new equipment faster than expected, putting pressure on major equipment suppliers. In the future, equipment vendors lacking automation-related software in their products may find it difficult to secure orders from Samsung.

Samsung officials refrained from confirming detailed automation plans, acknowledging the difficulty of achieving full automation of every process. However, they stressed that from the perspectives of process, production, and manpower efficiency, automation is a natural trend in all industries.

In June 2023, Samsung established the first fully automated production lines for some backend processes at its Cheonan and Onyang fabs, resulting in a 90% reduction in equipment failure rates and an 85% decline in manpower demand, alongside a drastic increase in overall equipment efficiency.