Spearheading Advancements in the Semiconductor Industry

Joshua Lee
Vice President
Micron Memory Japan

March 2024

Joshua Lee is the Vice President of Hiroshima-based Micron Memory Japan, Micron Technology’s center for memory-related semiconductor manufacturing. As an experienced senior director in the industry, Lee has wide-ranging experience in semiconductor process and equipment engineering, business planning, operations management and manufacturing. We spoke with Lee about the global semiconductor Industry, including how AI will forever influence data-driven manufacturing. Through robust government support and academia collaboration to inspire the next generation to lead the industry, he is confident in Micron’s role as a semiconductor powerhouse as well as a community leader and global industry representative. He paints a picture of an industry that is foundational to virtually all the technologies that shape our lives today.

Global Trends and Modern AI Applications in Semiconductor Tech

The year of 2024 promises to be an exciting year for technology, particularly in semiconductors. In 2023, the industry faced a downturn, but the landscape has rapidly changed, partially thanks to the emergence of generative AI: "A new sense of optimism, and the potential of AI applications – with ChatGPT as a prominent example – are so transformative, they will be prevalent in every aspect of our lives moving forward," says Lee.

AI, machine learning and data-driven inferencing are becoming embedded across society, and memory and storage play a vital role in these processes to store and process data. The semiconductor market is projected to reach US$1 trillion by 2030, with memory contributing significantly. But to achieve this growth, "we must invest in acquiring new skills and talent to innovate and adapt to these transformative technologies," states Lee.

Small memory module with low power consumption and high performance (left)
Advanced SSD equipped with over 200 layers of NAND (right)

One example of these transformative technologies is "intelligent edge" computing: on-premises IoT systems that collect, process and act on data, using edge computing concepts to boost speed, save bandwidth and enhance security. A second example is autonomous driving, which is getting close to being an accepted part of modern society already. According to Lee, a key challenge of the coming era is that "we must innovate and build new applications around these next-generation technologies."

Government Support at Micron’s Hiroshima Plant for Cutting-Edge Development

Japan has a robust semiconductor industry with a long history, including chip manufacturers and fabrication equipment makers. In fact, "a significant portion of global capital equipment and materials for semiconductors originates in Japan," according to Lee, indicating the country is vital to the industry on a global scale. The government's recent commitment to promoting semiconductor investment and growth, especially in leading-edge technologies like logic and memory "is directly aligned with government goals, and when we can envision products that make our lives better, in a sustainable way, transformative change is possible," says Lee.

Hiroshima Plant, Micron Memory Japan

Regarding government efforts, over the past decade substantial investments have been made in Micron’s Hiroshima semiconductor facility. "Japan recognizes the importance of semiconductors and drives policies and investments to this end," states Lee. Micron’s Hiroshima plant, which boasts a strong R&D and manufacturing presence, led to the 2023 announcement of the introduction of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) technology to Japan. This sophisticated patterning technology will be used to manufacture the next generation of DRAM, the 1-gamma (1γ) node, building on the success of 1-beta in DRAM production. Micron plans to integrate EUV technology in Japan, as well as Taiwan, for 1-gamma production starting in 2025.

Semiconductor manufacturing is performed in clean rooms where temperature, humidity and sanitization are strictly controlled

Academia-Industry Collaboration and Fostering New Talent

Actively engaging with universities through internships, lectures and a partnership initiative called UPWARDS (University Partnerships for Workforce Advancement and Research & Development) enables Micron to get insight into the next generation of talent. "We are tapping into a broader talent pool and deepening engagement by collaborating with universities to shape curriculums, offer specialized courses and support staff fellowships. This holistic approach seeks to bring diverse perspectives and talent into the semiconductor industry," says Lee.

While Micron is engaged in multiple university collaborations, a mentorship program with Nara Women's University fosters particularly deep connections and an understanding of university students’ aspirations: "In Nara, our employee resource group Micron Young Professionals works to mentor students here, giving us valuable insight on how we can meet on both fronts – academic and professional – to contribute to the next generation of STEM talent in Japan," explains Lee. Providing students with valuable mentorship from a professional perspective is crucial for any enterprise looking to put down roots and develop requisite talent in Japan.

A Sustainable, Innovative Semiconductor Industry with Micron Leading the Way

Demonstrating leadership in terms of sustainability is crucial in Japan, where concrete initiatives to encourage public action toward environmental conservation are necessary. Micron is contributing to the Japanese semiconductor industry by focusing on reducing energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions and waste while enhancing water recyclability. It partners with local companies to drive innovative solutions and sponsors water restoration projects, "benefiting both the environment and the community in Hiroshima." These actions, aligning with an overarching commitment to global sustainability, serve as a blueprint for other companies considering Japanese market entry.

Collaborating closely with government and educational institutions to develop local talent is another cornerstone of well-defined, long-term plans for growth in Japan. With Micron leading the way, Lee believes that "Japan will remain at the forefront of technological advancement and create new, transformative products that enable better lives for everyone."

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