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Kyushu earthquakes drag on camera manufacture

At least three camera companies – Canon, Nikon, Sony – have indicated that production will probably be impacted by the Kyushu earthquakes.

Kumamoto is the primary site for manufacture of digital camera image sensors. Recommencement of ‘some’ manufacture is from late May at the earliest. (Source:

While there is scant detail at present, the most troubling potential issue for the industry as a whole is the continued closure of Sony’s CMOS manufacturing plant in Kumamoto, where image sensors for Sony, as well as other cameras, are made.

There have been incorrect reports that the Kumamoto factory is the source of camera sensors for smartphones such as iPhones and Galaxys. Sony’s plant in Nagasaki, which is resuming full operations, is the company’s major production facility for image sensors for smartphones.

Latest information from Sony (April 28) is that ‘some parts’ of the Kumamoto factory would re-open at the end of May. The plant has suffered structural damage on upper floors which will further delay re-starting manufacture.

Sony’s Kumamoto Technology Center. (Source: Sony.)

The current status of operations for the Kumamoto Technology Center is as follows:
– Damage to the building itself has been confirmed to be primarily to the upper layer of the building, and reinforcement work will be carried out in this area;
-The clean rooms used for wafer processing and manufacturing equipment, both located on the lower layer of the building have not been significantly damaged, and preparations are now underway to resume production. Manufacturing operations are targeted to resume around the end of May 2016.
– Regarding back-end processes, such as assembly and measurement, as well as processing operations for components such as camera modules, which are carried out on the upper layer of the building, Sony has confirmed that there is damage to the clean rooms, manufacturing equipment and other equipment. Further analysis of the extent of this damage is currently underway.
– Damage to finished product inventory such as image sensors at Kumamoto Technology Center is limited, and shipments of these products have already resumed. The status of semi-finished and uncompleted products is currently being confirmed.

‘Large opportunity losses’
‘The impact of the earthquakes on Sony Corporation’s consolidated results continues to be evaluated. In the Devices segment, there is expected to be direct physical damage to Kumamoto Technology Center. Sony expects to incur expenses primarily for recovery and reinforcement work in response to the physical damage to the relevant portion of the Kumamoto Technology Center.

‘Sony may also incur large opportunity losses, mainly in the Devices and Imaging Products & Solutions segments due to suspension of production for a certain period of time.’

Sony controls about 40 percent of the market for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors. It has has been reassuring the market and its clients that there shouldn’t be any delays to sensor supply because it has multiple factories and warehoused inventory. However IT website DigiTimes questions that confidence: ‘Because Sony CIS solutions are highly customised, clients may have difficulties shifting orders to other suppliers in the short term. Switching orders to other suppliers will cause 2-3 month delays before they receive products.’

Sony along with other manufacturers also sees delays from third-part suppliers affecting its camera business.

‘…the earthquakes have caused damage to the manufacturing facilities of certain third-party suppliers of components to Sony, the impact of which on Sony’s business operations is currently being evaluated,’ read a statement posted on Sony’s website.

Nikon, already having fallen behind with many of its 2016 new releases, apparently due to a range of technological issues, has conceded that the earthquakes will worsen supply problems: ‘…parts suppliers for Nikon digital cameras and interchangeable lenses were affected by the series of earthquakes and that this will inevitably impact production and sales,’ Nikon said in a statement.

Canon hasn’t experienced any damage to its own facilities, but has also flagged possible issues with third-party parts suppliers in a statement to UK enthusiast website, Amateur Photographer: ‘None of the company’s buildings or facilities have incurred any significant damage and all Canon Group companies in the region are able to operate normally. However, production of some products has halted due to the impact on part supply companies and infrastructure. At the moment the impact to the business is minimal, the future situation is still being assessed.’

Fujifilm has reported that Fujifilm Kyusyu, also located in Kumamoto, ‘established an emergency task force right immediately following the earthquake and has been working on collecting and assessing information, while also considering necessary actions and recovery measures.’

Fujifilm Kyushu doesn’t seem to be involved in camera manufacture, but rather film coatings for use in LCD screens.

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.

Automakers in the area also halted operations in the aftermath of the earthquake. These include Honda Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co.


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