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The IM Flash Technologies plant in Lehi has begun using a new manufacturing process to produce much smaller flash memory chips, allowing makers of mobile phones, cameras or tablet computers to pack more features into the same space.

Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Corp., the plant's joint owners, said they had created a technique for producing memory chips at an extremely narrow 20 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. The measurement refers to the space between cells used to store memory on a silicon chip, the smaller the space between cells the more memory can be packed into a given space.

Alan Niebel of Web-Feet Research, which provides analysis of digital memory and storage industries, said the innovation puts IM Flash Technologies at the top of an industry enveloped in fierce competition to put more memory into smaller spaces.

"IMFT at 20nm is ahead of Toshiba at 24nm and Samsung at only 27nm," Niebel said in an email.

The announcement demonstrates the blistering pace of development among makers of flash memory chips. Just a little more than a year ago, IM Flash officials announced a 25nm chip, but the company already is producing in small quantities the 20nm chip, which in comparison allows for a reduction of up to 40 percent in the amount of space it occupies on a board holding the components of electronic devices.

For IM Flash, the new process means the sprawling Lehi plant can produce more memory more efficiently. Micron spokesman Dan Francisco said the plant's workforce, around 1,500, was expected to remain the same.

He added that the plant is producing samples of the new chip that are being sent to customers, with mass production expected in the second half of the year. IM Flash is set to open a facility this week in Singapore that also will produce the new memory chips.

Niebel said IM Flash Technologies may have an issue in trying to keep up with demand. "The main problem with IMFT is needing to increase production even beyond the Singapore Fab."

IM Flash is using the 20nm process to create chips with8 gigabytes of storage. But when it ramps up to full production, Intel and Micron said they expect to unveil samples of a 16GB device that will allow the creation of 128GB of digital storage in an area smaller than a U.S. postage stamp.