1. Sources of Samsung’s cost advantage in DRAMs
Samsung’s cost advantage is clearly visible from the comparison of costs (and their elements) that were borne by the company and its competitors in 2003 (Tab. 3): Samsung’s overall cost was 24 per cent lower than the weighted average cost of the other four producers; two most significant elements of the cost structure, i.e. raw materials and labour, were 36 and 27 per cent lower respectively. When expressed by means of a relation of average selling price to costs (“productivity” of cost elements), the differences are even more visible (comp. Tab. 4 ): overall superiority of Samsung over its competitors exceeded 51 per cent! The cost advantages related to raw materials may be explained by better negotiated agreements with suppliers (perhaps due to the larger volumes of purchases – comp. Fig. 5) and possibly less shipping and distribution costs that stem from the fact that Samsung’s fab facilities are geographically collocated (while competitors’ facilities are spread world-wide). In terms of labour productivity only Chinese SMIC outperformed Samsung, but that came hardly unexpectedly: low labour costs in China had been and were to remain unbeatable for some time yet. Other possibly meaningful factors that cannot be forgotten include: higher yields (due to process quality and use of more efficient, larger silicon wafers), use of common core design for different products supported by the flexibility of production lines (which enabled cost-efficient production of a wide variety of different semiconductors), and – reportedly – 12 per cent lower investment in capital assets related to the aforementioned strategic decision on fab collocation. The last but not least element of the Samsung’s “cost puzzle” (which, unfortunately cannot be supported by concrete numbers from the case study, and is rather based on intuition) was the way the firm built and maintained intellectual capital and stimulated innovativeness and...
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