Japan disaster rocks computer chip supplies

Crisis halts 25% of worldwide silicon wafer production, says iSuppli

The disaster in Japan is putting a pinch on 25% of the worldwide production of silicon wafers used to make computer chips, according to a new report.

Two Japanese factories -- Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. Ltd.'s Shirakawa facility and MEMC Electronic Materials Inc.'s Utsunomiya plant -- have halted operations. Those two facilities alone make up a quarter of the global supply of silicon wafers used to make semiconductors, according to IHS iSuppli, a research company. Both companies supply wafers to semiconductor companies around the globe.

"Because of this, the suspension of operations at these plants could have wide-ranging implications beyond the Japanese electronics industry," iSuppli noted in its report. "A 25% reduction in supply could have a major effect on worldwide semiconductor production."

Researchers also noted that Shin-Etsu's Shirakawa plant is responsible for 20% of the worldwide silicon semiconductor wafer supply. There reportedly has been significant damage to the plant's production facilities and equipment. According to iSuppli, Shin-Etsu is trying to shift production to other facilities, but it's not clear how long that will take.

Japan was rocked by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, and a subsequent tsunami, on March 11. After the initial disaster, the country then had to deal with a crisis with its damaged nuclear power plants, that, among other things, has caused rolling brownouts and blackouts.

Many roads are still impassible in Japan, and the country's transportation system has been staggered. If factories are operating, it's difficult to deliver supplies to them and to get finished product out to customers.

"What we're seeing now are production stoppages for various reasons," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "Some of the plants are in areas unaffected by the quakes but have stopped production due to the magnitude of the overall crisis and associated people and logistic problems."

One of the big questions is how long the shortage will go on. "What we really don't know is how long a process this will be. I tend to think that we're talking in terms of weeks or maybe a few months," Olds said. "At this point, I don't think we can dub this an all-out crisis."

Olds noted that one obstacle reason that may keep factories from operating is because of the country's nuclear power plant crisis.

"Japan relied on nuclear power for about 30% of their overall capacity, with that out of the mix, gas and coal-fired generating will have to pick up the slack," he said. "We don't know if they have enough existing capacity to handle their industrial and consumer electric needs."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

Read more about hardware in Computerworld's Hardware Topic Center.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Googledisaster recoveryprocessorssoftwareemcapplicationshardwareBusiness Continuityhardware systemsNASAiSuppliComponents

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?