By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion Magazine
We’re starting to get insight into the ripple effects from the Japanese disaster, and how various automotive parts will be affected. Making solid-state electronic components is not a simple task and requires sophisticated, precision-aligned equipment, clean rooms, and exact chemical and thermal processes.
The chips go into automotive controllers and modules, and some modern vehicles have nearly 100 of those. Additionally, many chips are “built to purpose”, and what works in a traction control system won’t help an engine controller. Other products are made for non-automotive use as well, and a variety of industries will be slowed.
Two semiconductor companies inJapan command about 60 percent of the chip market—Renesas Electronics and Freescale Semiconductor, with Renesas holding about a two-to-one lead in the market. Both supply the automotive and other industries and both have been hard hit by recent events.
Freescale, based inAustin,Texas, was spun off from Motorola several years ago. They have product and fabrication plants in at least 20 countries. Two years ago, the company announced its plans to close theSendai,Japan, plant by the end of 2011. They had begun stockpiling parts in anticipation of transferring the work to other facilities around the world in an orderly fashion.
But theSendaiplant was heavily damaged in March, and the company recently announced they will not be reopening it. This caught them nine months short on the orderly transition and, since the stockpiling was incomplete, Freescale is now scrambling to bring its other plants up to speed to fill the gaps.
Renesas has five plants in Japanand all were damaged to some degree on March 11. Most of the damage was to fine-calibration on machinery, not to structures, and after repairs several of the plants have either restarted or will shortly.
The Naka plant – near the main quake damage zone – was heavily jolted and will require much internal repair to resume full production. In a news release, the company said some limited output has already resumed but that it could be July before full and normal production is achieved.
A day after that announcement, a Renesas official speaking with the Japanese newspaper “Yomiuri Shimbun” admitted that some rationing of chips for automotive controllers will be necessary and that the “severe shortage of electronic parts will probably last through the summer.” The company also expects the product shortage to affect many industries besides automotive.
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