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You are here: Home / Hardware / Japan Struggles To Produce Chips
Japan's Chipmakers Struggle To Resume Output
Japan's Chipmakers Struggle To Resume Output
By Mark Long / CRM Daily Like this on Facebook Tweet this Link thison Linkedin Link this on Google Plus
Elpida Memory said Monday that the company's Hiroshima plant in south Japan, which suffered minimal impact from the mammoth earthquake that struck the northeastern part of the country on March 11, is once again operating at near-normal levels. Japan's leading maker of DRAM memory chips also expressed confidence that it will be able to fulfill customer orders for memory chips until the end of July despite the suspension of raw wafer production at several Japanese plants.

According to iSuppli, the damages sustained by two key Japanese production facilities could potentially lead to an estimated 25 percent reduction in the world's silicon wafer supply. Moreover, the 300mm wafers formerly produced at Shin-Etsu Chemical's Shirakawa plant provide the raw materials for manufacturing the DRAM and flash memory chips deployed in a wide range of consumer electronics products -- from desktop PCs and laptops to smartphones and web tablets.

Shin-Etsu said Friday that it has not yet been able to conduct a full inspection of the damages inflicted on the Shirakawa plant. "At present, it is still unclear how long it [will take] to restore" plant operations, the company said.

Power Blackouts

Shin-Etsu's announcement underscores the uncertainty that Japan's semiconductor industry continues to face as it seeks to recover from the cumulative effects of a horrific earthquake and tsunami. Moreover, the extensive damage inflicted on the nation's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has forced operator Tokyo Electric Power and its regional utility clients to implement rolling power outages, an additional headache for chipmakers that could take months to resolve.

According to Shin-Etsu, production at its remaining facilities in Japan continue to be affected by the rolling blackouts.

"We will cooperate for reduction and restriction of the usage of electric power with all the company efforts," Shin-Etsu said. "Meanwhile, we are requesting the electric power companies to provide a stable supply of electric power because we have facilities and equipment that need to be operated continuously due to safety reasons."

Operations at Sumco's 300mm wafer plant in Yonezawa also have been suspended since March 11 due to damage to the building and equipment. Sumco said Monday that repair and restoration work is under way, but "the situation remains unpredictable due to the continuation of strong aftershocks, and the timing and scale of the restart of operations may be affected by the availability of electric power and materials."

Leaving Nothing To Chance

Nevertheless, Elpida executives have concluded that the DRAM maker has sufficient materials to continue delivering memory chips to customers through the end of July. The company also said Monday that it doesn't anticipate any major disruption of production in August or beyond.

Still, Japan's leading supplier of DRAM chips is leaving nothing to chance. Elpida said it is holding discussions with its suppliers on contingency plans to ensure that Elpida will be able to continue providing customers with a stable supply of products.

DRAMexchange said earlier this month that the firm's researchers expect the earthquake to reduce global NAND flash supplies by less than four percent in the second quarter. However, the firm's researchers also noted that this estimate is subject to revision once further information on Japan's power and transportation infrastructures becomes available.

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