Japan earthquakes halt Sony iPhone sensor production

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Japan earthquakes halt Sony iPhone sensor production
Photo credit: REUTERS/KYODO

Sony said a factory producing image sensors for smartphone makers will remain closed while it assesses the damage from two deadly earthquakes which hit southern Japan. One of its major customers is Apple, which uses the sensors in its iPhones.

Sony said it will extend the closure of its image sensor plant in Kumamoto, which is in the southern island of Kyushu, after major tremblors on Thursday and Saturday rocked the key manufacturing region.

The PlayStation maker said operations at its image sensor plant in Nagasaki, also in Kyushu, will be partially suspended and it does not yet have a timeline for full resumption of operations.

Sony controls about 40 percent of the market for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors, a type of integrated circuit that converts light into electrical signals. In smartphones they are used to convert images into digital data.

“We are not expecting any immediate supply disruption as we have some inventories right now," a Sony spokesman told Reuters on Saturday. "We will make an announcement promptly if any supply issues emerge.”

He said the company was hoping to resume operations as soon as aftershocks end, and would probably provide an update on late Monday afternoon. "We are still checking for potential damage to the plants, which usually operate on a 24-hour basis," he said.

Apple could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sony has two other CMOS image sensor plants in Japan.

Samsung said it has diversified its sources for image sensors used in its smartphones and the quakes will have no impact on its flagship products.

A devastating earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan in March 2011 temporarily knocked out part of Japan's auto supply chain. Some companies have since adjusted the industry's "just in time" production philosophy to limit any repeat of that costly disruption.

Other electronics makers were also forced to stop production in Kyushu, which has grown as a manufacturing hub over the past two decades. Kyushu accounts for roughly 25 percent of semiconductor output in Japan by some estimates.

Renesas Electronics closed its Kumamoto plant, which produces microcontroller chips for automobiles. It will not resume production until it completes its damage assessment.

Mitsubishi Electric halted production at its two Kumamoto plants which produce liquid crystal display modules used in display panels for car navigation systems and semiconductor chips used in power inverters for various electrical products, including air conditioners and hybrid or electric vehicles. It uses some of the products itself and provides others to customers.

“We are still assessing the situation as we continue to have aftershocks," said a Mitsubishi spokesman.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu, Makiko Yamazaki and Kentaro Hamada in Tokyo; Writing by Shinichi Saoshiro; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Martin Howell

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