SK hynix Fueling Innovation through Digital Transformation

By April 29, 2020 May 8th, 2020 No Comments

Corporate Competitiveness in the Digital Era

Software has swallowed up the world in the 4th Industrial Revolution Era, and in order to keep up, companies including semiconductor manufacturers must stay competitive.

The competitiveness of a company is dependent on the strength of its members and its tools – from the competence of its members and the culture of its workplace, to the performance of its equipment and IT (information technology) systems (see Structure of Corporate Competitiveness chart below). Notably, IT systems have become particularly critical to companies’ success and growth, especially in the semiconductor industry recently.

Figure 1. Structure of Corporate Competitiveness

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To fuel the critical IT-based innovations into our corporate competitiveness, SK hynix has developed a Digital Transformation (DT) strategy to leverage digital technologies to meet the changing demands of the digital era.

Digital Transformation at SK hynix

At SK hynix, there are six digital platforms leading our Digital Transformation:

1. Communication & Collaboration Platform
2. Data Lake Platform
3. Cloud Native Platform
4. Mobile Platform
5. AI Service Platform
6. Analytics Platform

Figure 2. Digital Platforms Leading SK hynix’s Digital Transformation

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Leveraging these platforms, SK hynix uses design thinking alongside field engineers to “assemble” the digital products that can lead to a better user experience and work process innovation suitable for current working environments. The strategy of assembling products based on the platform breaks away from the ways of the past where people relied on already made IT tools, as the new strategy provides an environment where people can take it upon themselves to design their own tools and utilize them according to their specific needs. Simply think of “DIY (Do It Yourself)” as you make tools that work best for you.

Our Digital Transformation has come to life in the forms of three key examples:

1. Communication Innovation: Innovation of communication and cooperation among employees
2. Digital Workplace: Innovation towards data- and process-centered working environment
3. AI & Citizen Workforce: Transformation to the era of big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and DIY

Figure 3. SK hynix Digital Transformation

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1. Communication Innovation

SK hynix’s existing communications mostly consisted of emails sent via PCs. SK hynix has since expanded to a collaborative environment that embraces both PCs and mobile devices by developing an integrated communication platform. This platform centralized a vast amount of knowledge and information communicated through it, and further recorded such communicative trails so that everyone who utilizes this platform can search their previous communicative logs and shared data. Additionally, the company succeeded to establish 3A (Anytime, Anywhere, Any device) environment which allows quick access to working environment from any device at any time, any place through newly developed Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). As a result, members are now able to easily adapt to the changing working environment.

One of our visible achievements is that the number of emails received/sent has been decreased by 63% from 2018 to 2019, which means internal communications have transformed into the environment which fosters better efficiency, faster speed, bi-directionality and real-time communication. The 63% reduction in emails has eliminated the unnecessary waste of 40 minutes for every employee each day.

2. Digital Workplace

Conway’s Law hypothesizes that all systems are designed in the same way as how the organizations communicate.

Figure 4. Conway’s Law1

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In the past, the existing working environment was not intended for employees, who were essentially “consumers” of the company’s working environment. Eventually, users would have to combine the functions of multiple separated systems manually to handle their work, implying unnecessary loss of working efficiency. SK hynix re-designed this environment by dividing tasks based on their function, reorganizing it around the workflow of actual workers in charge, and connecting data and working processes in a user-centered way. By doing so, we are transforming into a user-centered digital workplace that allows employees to start and complete their work via one streamlined gateway.

Our digital workplace creates a foundation that connects workflows from End-to-End (E2E) starting from notifications that come from equipment, people, and etc. Due to the semiconductor industry’s nature, countless information and notifications are transmitted among engineers regarding process/yield rate/equipment, which is why by connecting all these events, data and processes, we can redesign our working environment into a human-centered one.

DT also triggered major changes of business devices within the FAB. The devices such as pagers, TRS phones, cameras, handbooks, and barcode scanners which are necessary in the FAB were all integrated into a single handy mobile app. Field workers now use smartphones/tablets inside FAB to confirm/diagnose equipment malfunctions and exchange information in real-time, or execute preventive maintenance (PM) for equipment with reference to video guides. In addition, QR codes let you request parts and materials to be delivered in a brief instant, and even manage warehouse inventory as shipments are being processed simultaneously. Finally, people now can record their working processes with smart devices in real time to ensure databases are up to date accurately for future work processes and cost-efficiency analysis.

Furthermore, by accumulating the previous technologies and work processes in the cloud platform, we can now seamlessly transplant them when establishing or operating a new FAB. Through this process, we continuously spread and reproduce work efficiency improvement and digital transformation in the FAB.

3. AI & Citizen Workforce

Big data-based Machine Learning (ML) / Deep Learning (DL) technology was also applied to SK hynix’s semiconductor manufacturing process and has already proven to be very effective. By focusing our AI capabilities on quality inspection, 75% of our quality inspectors’ work is now automated after introducing the DL-based visual inspection technique to the defective inspection, which was previously down to an operator’s visual observations. With ML / DL applied, we now can automatically group bad wafers (aggregating bad groups) and analyze which processes caused the defects. In previous, engineers had to analyze defects by themselves and figure out the cause of the defects manually. The automated system also executes pattern scoring, auto grouping, and even setting up the defect DB. This sped up the time for anomaly detection and cause analysis by three times compared to the previous ways.

From 2020, AI will be applied to more semiconductor manufacturing processes besides quality inspection. Hundreds of our experts and citizen data specialists have completed developing algorithms and they are currently preparing to apply them to the field.

Moreover, we have developed AI bots working 24 hours a day across various fields to support our members by automating their repetitive and regular tasks. Known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), this system successfully automated repetitive tasks and manual work across all business areas including manufacturing, R&D and purchasing.

Figure 5. Demonstration of Digitalized Dashboard System with Virtual Data

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Our applications of DT in dashboard management, reporting, and analytics have gone beyond the scope of automation and entered the field of DIY. SK hynix applied various levels of analytics and business intelligence (BI) tools to enable users to make customized systems based on Data Lake and Analytic platforms. For instance, the employees can develop a customized system/template for their organizations so that other members can utilize it and improve working efficiencies. Unlike traditional BI tools, users can assemble various objects besides charts and grids in order to assemble highly visualized and functional layout for their self-designed system. The company continues to expand functions and train its employees so that they can utilize this tool-making mechanism with ease.

“Good people are born endlessly in a good system.”

Digital Transformation cannot be achieved with a single piece of technology or one-time effort. It requires the continuous evolution of a workplace and the engaged participation of all of its members – to change, evolve and adapt together.

As Changrock Song, Head of Digital Transformation (Chief Information Officer, CIO) at SK hynix says, “Good people are endlessly born in a good system.” The key of DT, after all, is people.

And it is our ultimate goal in SK hynix’s DT to create a fine system. One that is open and connected, one that inspires creative work, and one that empowers our company and each of us to grow together.


1Melvin Conway, “Conway’s Law”, Mel Conway’s Home Page (1968)

ByDong Ho Seo

Project Leader (PL) of Digital Platform Team at SK hynix