Japan earthquakes disrupt electronics supply chain, take Sony smartphone sensor fab offline

A major Sony camera sensor factory is offline, and Sony and Renesas have been hit as well.

Sony headquarters

Sony headquarters in Tokyo, pictured on May 1, 2011

Credit: Martyn Williams

A series of powerful earthquakes that shook southwest Japan this week has also disrupted the electronics supply chain. Sony, Mitsubishi Electric and chip-maker Renesas are among the companies with factories in the area.

On Thursday evening local time, Kumamoto prefecture was hit by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake, the first of many to rock the area. Early Saturday morning, a more powerful magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck, triggering a tsunami advisory and several strong aftershocks.

At least four people died as a result of the Saturday morning quake, according to NHK television, and helicopter TV images showed damaged and collapsed buildings. Thursday's quakes had already killed nine people and left more than 1,000 injured.

Sony suspended work at its Kumamoto factory that produces digital image sensors. These are key components in cameras and smartphones, including Apple's iPhone. A prolonged suspension of production could have a knock-on effect on the availability of products in stores, but it's too early to tell if there will be any such effect.

A 2011 earthquake in eastern Japan caused major disruption to the electronics industry after factories suspended operations for weeks, but the scale of this week's earthquakes, while serious, was smaller.

Renesas Electronics and Mitsubishi Electric have neighboring plants in Kumamoto, the former making automotive chips and the latter power devices. Operations were suspended at both plants as a result of the earthquakes, Japanese media said.

Mitsubishi Electric also suspended an LCD parts facility and a semiconductor plant in the area.

The Saturday morning earthquake was determined to be the main shock and Thursday evening's was a precursor to it, the Japan Meteorological Agency said early Saturday.

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